[OUTLOOK]Asiana must solve strike alone

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[OUTLOOK]Asiana must solve strike alone

The strike staged by Asiana Airlines pilots has gone on for more than 10 days. But as a timetable for negotiations between management and labor has not been set, the dispute is set to be further prolonged. Amid the unprecedented recession and scorching heat, the strike at Asiana has become one of the causes that irritate citizens.
What is most noticeable in this strike is the lack of will and ability to negotiate on the part of both management and labor. The union says it is concerned about the safety of flights, while demanding an end to random drug and alcohol tests of pilots before and after flights, and the system of requiring an English language test score at a certain level that is indispensable for a safe flight. Also, the unionized pilots strangely wanted Asiana to furnish golf clubs at the hotels where they stay to get sufficient rest before a flight.
Management is also pathetic in that it demanded emergency government intervention rather than solving its own problem autonomously as a private business. It seems that management is trying to settle the strike to their advantage through government intervention and relying on the criticism of the public against the so-called “aristocratic union.”
Some argue that the government should exercise emergency intervention in the public interest, but this is inappropriate. Despite the pilots’ strike, international flights are mostly operating as normal and only some domestic and cargo flights have been canceled.
Above all, Asiana Airlines is a private airline that can be substituted by other means. Due to the strike during vacation season, travelers are undergoing inconveniences and deliveries of export goods are delayed, but there are not many cases in which the strike will do irrevocable harm to customers as there are alternative means such as domestic and foreign airlines and the Korea Express Train, or KTX.
Because airlines have alternative means, unlike public agencies such as district offices or state-run corporations, there is no reason for the government to intervene. For this reason, the airline industry was changed from a public business with restrictions on strike to a private business a few years ago.
The ultimate victims of the pilot union’s strike are the management and labor of Asiana Airlines, and experts see this strike as inflicting harm on the airline company itself. In the short term, individuals and company customers that fell victim to the strike will move to competing companies, and in the long term, Asiana will give the citizens the image that the company is not a dependable means of transportation.
A recent increase in oil prices and the opening of KTX put a big burden on the management of domestic airliner. As a consequence, the Asiana pilots’ strike will result in a decrease in sales and profit in the future, which means losses to both management and the union. In fact, this burden serves to facilitate an autonomous deal between management and labor.
It was a wise decision for the Ministry of Labor and the governing party to refuse to enforce emergency arbitration despite the demand from Asiana. In most countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, there is no system like emergency arbitration that restricts the right to strike at essential public business places. As in the United States, some countries grant the government with the authority of emergency arbitration, but the system has been used only a few times over the past decades.
Ironically, for the stability of labor-management relations at private businesses, it is important to give individual companies the opportunity to experience the adverse consequences of a labor-management conflict and learn from the experience.
There have been many cases in which government intervention in the conflicts of individual businesses seemed to bring about results on a short-term basis, but strikes repeatedly occurred every year because the conflict inevitably continues internally on a long-term basis.
There are also countless cases in which the experience of the extreme conflict between management and labor in the past exhibited a learning effect and helped maintain productive labor-management relations. Such examples of domestic businesses are LG Electronics and Hyundai Heavy Industries, and overseas there are excellent companies like Xerox, Conning & Co and NUMMI. In countries like the United States and Britain that experienced labor disputes before us, the so-called autonomous deal between management and labor was established early on, where concerned parties solve the dispute on their own.
The Asiana Airlines’ strike should also be resolved autonomously through active negotiations between the concerned parties. As the government has already made it clear, there will be no intervention in a strike staged by a private company.
We urge the management and labor of Asiana Airlines to return to the table and negotiate for their own sake.

*The writer is a professor of business administration at Korea University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kim Dong-one
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