[EDITORIALS]A call to regulate unionsLabor Minister Kim Dae-hwan announced yesterday that he now has to consider regulating Korea’s labor unions. He said that while labor unions were once the victims of oppression, that is no longer the case. Given Mr. Kim’s statement that he intends to address the unions’ structural problems, it can be assumed that the government may regain the right to supervise and control unions.
An official with the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions said Mr. Kim’s remarks would greatly undermine unions’ independence and autonomy, and called his ideas “outdated.” In other words, the unions would not accept any outside intervention in the name of cleaning up corruption.
It is hard to comprehend what prompted Mr. Kim, who as labor minister is in a position to act on workers’ behalf, to make these proposals. They are all the more surprising in light of his past service on an advisory committee for the Federation of Korean Trade Unions. He was most likely forced to say these things by the series of labor corruption cases that have emerged.
But then, the unions are to blame for the government-wide calls for independent auditing bodies to investigate their finances. As their corruption scandals have piled up, the general public’s discontent with unions has also grown. Many associate the word “labor” with such adjectives as “authoritarian.”
Since 1997, when the government’s right to examine unions’ finances were scrapped on the grounds that it would threaten their autonomy, Korea’s unions have been left to inspect their own finances. But their members sacrifice a great deal of time and money for them, and it is essential to implement a system that ensures transparency and accuracy. It is rather unfortunate that union members are calling the government’s initiatives oppressive; if they are not willing to follow the government’s lead, they must come up with viable ideas of their own.
The government and unions must get together to discuss the amendment to the labor union law that was submitted to the National Assembly four years ago. Unions must have their autonomy, but neutral auditing bodies need to be allowed to investigate if a certain number of members request it, or the government deems it necessary. At this juncture, labor unions must present an overall reform plan. They should also ask themselves how they became targets for the same reforms they once argued were necessary for others.