Labor trouble brewingThe labor conflict at E.Land following the layoffs of non-regular workers is the realization of a worst case scenario. The riot police went into two stores where the union workers held demonstrations. The labor organizations vowed to fight, and there are signs the case may develop into a full battle between employers and unions. The future is at stake.
It all began with the non-regular workers law that went into effect this month. According to the law, companies must hire non-regular workers permanently after two years of service or let them go.
It would be nice if companies could afford to change all non-regular workers to regular workers, but reality is different. E.Land began outsourcing cashiers at New Core department stores and terminated contracts of half of the non-regular workers at Homever discount stores. E.Land is the parent company of New Core and Homever. To protest the decision, the union occupied two stores for 20 straight days and began demonstrations, resulting in the arrival of riot police.
The government’s indecisiveness only made things worse. “Outsourcing is undesirable,” Labor Minister Lee Sang-soo said. A few days later, he said, “The company made many concessions, and it is the union’s turn to do the same.” The populist policy and the lack of principles amplified the dispute and distrust.
From long ago, the company and union failed to build trust with each other. E.Land suffered frequent strikes. In 2004, workers walked out for 15 days over the issue of the five-day work week. Again, the union demanded that the company assure job security for employees who worked longer than three months. The management refused to talk to the union in the beginning and held the first talks with the union after 10 days of demonstrations. The intervention by the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions and the Democratic Labor Party is not going to help the situation. Instead, it is likely to stir up the conflict and lead it to an extreme situation. They should not be involved. This should be left between the union and the company. Both sides should talk face-to-face and come to a compromise. The government needs to keep quiet and deal with the issue in line with principles. What is clear is that in any case, illegal actions like occupying stores should not occur. With the current non-regular workers law, similar conflicts are expected. The law, which was opposed by both employers and workers from the beginning, needs to be amended quickly.