[EDITORIALS]Union struggle aheadA rift between the government and public servants’ labor unions will become apparent on Saturday, when a law on labor unions for public servants will go into effect. Two major public servants’ labor unions have vowed not to accept the law and made it clear that they would remain as labor unions outside legal bounds.
After the law goes into effect, any public officials’ organization that uses the title “labor union” without registration as such will be punished by a fine of up to 5 million won ($5,100). In addition, the government has said that any local government that signs a contract with the civil service union not following the new law will not receive special tax breaks and will be exempted from government-sponsored projects.
One of two major labor union for public servants has vowed to hold protest rallies next month, while the other has said it will join the Korean Federation of Trade Unions to step up its fight against the government.
If we leave things as it is, there is likely to be more chaos ahead.
The two major labor unions for government employees have argued that the new law is too broad, prohibiting the unions from conducting collective job actions in many areas. They have also accused it of limiting the pool of public servants by forbidding public workers above the sixth level who are in a managerial position from joining the union.
The government says that in case of public servants above the sixth level, most of them are in leadership positions of specific departments, making it necessary to impose a limit on who is able to join the union.
There is some validity to this argument. Public servants who can be categorized as managers should not be part of a labor union.
The new law picks the areas of policy making, promotion and budget as fields that to be excluded from labor union negotiations. These are areas that only pertain to the heads of local governments. In addition, many developed countries prohibit collective action by public servants.
What is even more important is that it is the first time that public-servant labor unions have been legalized under the Constitution. Since a public debate started regarding the issue in 2001, this has become possible only under difficult conditions.
For public servants who execute the law, to refuse to abide by the law is not right. Even if there is dissatisfaction with the law, the proper step would be first to accept it and then discuss an amendment within the legal framework.