[VIEWPOINT]Unions must think of nationThe aggravating discord between labor unions and the government over the direction of the government’s labor policy is inviting international embarrassment to itself.
In a joint news conference on Aug. 12, the Federation of Korean Trade Unions and the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions announced that they would not attend the Asian Regional Meeting of the International Labor Organization to be held in Busan in October and that they would ask the ILO to change the location of the meeting.
The two umbrella union organizations also proclaimed that if the Asian Regional Meeting were to be held as planned, they would ask the union organizations of other nations not to attend the meeting and stage a protest in front of the meeting venue.
Unlike other international organizations under the United Nations, the decision-making process of the International Labor Organization involves the three axes of labor unions, managements and governments.
The coming Asian Regional Meeting is co-hosted by the Korean government and the International Labor Organization’s executive office, so in the worst case, the meeting might need to be moved to another location or rescheduled.
The labor organizations’ decision to boycott an international meeting held at home and to demand a change of venue can be seen as a strategy to put the government, the host of the event, in a difficult situation, which would put the unions in an advantageous position.
However, having actively supported the hosting of the event, the umbrella organizations have lost credibility with the public as they interrupt the international meeting they promoted for the sake of their groups’ interest. It occurs to me that the Korean labor unions still have a long way to go until they play a responsible role that suits their position.
Since Korea became a member of the International Labor Organization in 1991, the Korean labor unions achieved the desired result of having the ILO’s council of directors urge the government to improve the standard of labor rights protection in Korea by continuously raising the issue of the Korean government’s violations of basic labor rights.
It is true that the ILO’s recommendations did influence the government’s labor policy to a certain extent and that the government has failed to act quickly to guarantee basic labor rights to the level demanded by the international community. In that sense, the government has brought this latest calamity upon itself.
Yet the labor unions’ tactic of borrowing an external force to resolve an internal problem is very negative to Korea’s image in the international community and the national interest.
International groups, including the International Labor Organization, are organizations led by advanced countries. Bringing in domestic issues before such international organizations will only give advanced countries and rival nations an excuse to put Korea in a difficult position.
The labor unions need to realize that other countries are keeping their eye on Korea because of the rapid economic development we have accomplished in the last four decades.
While the labor unions are shouting that the workers around the world are one, the competition among countries over the creation of jobs is only increasing in the era of globalization, and the unions of other countries are already working together with their governments to attract foreign capital.
As the labor union of civil servants has been recognized, Korea now has the entire framework of the basic labor rights required by the international community. Also, the Korean unions are considered one of the most powerful in the world, even thought the unions are organized with just over 10 percent of the working population. Therefore, the unions must refrain from strengthening their stance on a domestic issue by exploiting the opinions of international community.
The unions blame their absence from the International Labor Orga-nization’s Asian Regional Meeting on the government’s emergency mediation order for the unionized pilots at Asiana Airlines, who have returned to work. While I personally do not support the government’s intervention, the emergency measure should be understood as the government’s exercise of its inherent rights as the representative of citizens.
Moreover, we should still wait and see what the emergency measure’s consequences will be. It is unreasonable to create more trouble just because of the government’s actions in the Asiana strike.
To conclude, the labor groups’ decision not to attend the International Labor Union conference and to request a postponement of the event not only lacks justification but also does not help our national interests at all.
The labor groups need to think of the country and try to advocate their position at the regional meeting by cooperating with the government in making sure the event is held as scheduled.
* The writer is a professor of economics at Hansung University. Translation by the Joongang Daily staff.
by Park Young-bum