Fix labor lawThe fierce conflict between labor and management has long been a weak link in our society. The head of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions announced that its members would go on strike in the first half of next year, cutting gas and electricity and grounding aircraft. The Korean Railway Workers’ Union and a group of logistics workers plan an illegal strike on Friday, without consideration of public inconvenience.
The Roh Moo-hyun administration is mostly responsible for all this. Shortly after it took office, the administration sided with labor, saying it would fix the imbalance of power between labor and management. The government did not abide by the law or principles and responded to the issue with a populist stance, only making the conflicts worse. When Doosan Heavy Industries had a labor-management dispute, the labor minister intervened, sided with labor and negotiated with the logistics workers, a group that has no legal status. When the workers at Chohung Bank staged a strike, the vice economic minister made the mistake of taking part as a negotiator. Government officials ignored principles and attempted to overcome obstacles as quickly as possible.
The government has lost its balance and staggered, causing labor to lose some of its innocence and genuine goals, instead becoming too powerful itself. Rational voices in the the labor camp are not heard, and a minority of militant members lead the labor movement. Amid much public criticism of the government’s stance on the issue, President Roh Moo-hyun said, “Do not force me to abide by the law and principles. The government yielded a little to labor and the people have pushed me into a corner as if I committed some grave crime.” The last five years under this administration have created chaos on this issue.
The next president must repair the relationship between labor and management. The law of a democratic country states procedures for mending relationship between the two. The government must be prudent with its words and abide by the law without exception. It must be prepared for the expense and inconvenience needed for healing. Past experience shows us that if the law does not function properly, conflict between labor and management will worsen. In any case, illegal acts cannot be sanctioned.
For the past two decades since Korea has been democratized, our labor environment has changed a great deal. Labor union members at conglomerates, such as Hyundai Motor Company, are no longer regarded as vulnerable. Recently, there have been indications of change in labor-management relations. The courts issue verdicts that labor unions must compensate for financial damages caused by illegal strikes.
If the next president abides by the law on this issue, union workers and ordinary people will provide strong support. The law regarding irregular workers must be amended because it only puts irregular workers out of a job. Now is an important moment for labor-management relations in Korea.