Unions should think twiceLabor-management disputes are lately becoming more serious. Last weekend, union truckers decided to stage a strike. Since then, unions under the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions have been preparing for one strike after another. The metal workers’ union, an organization with 150,000 members, declared Wednesday that it had failed to reach an agreement and filed for mediation with the National Labor Relations Commission.
Just when it seemed that we might finally be positioned to overcome the economic crisis, companies and unions, the two major engines for economic recovery, are preparing to fight. As two hands are needed to applaud, companies share responsibility, too. However, hard-line unions have more responsibility because they do not want to have dialogue but ask for the impossible. Truckers’ and construction unions are threatening to strike, demanding special labor rights be guaranteed for special workers who are mostly self-employed. The metal workers’ union is also obsessed with political issues, such as irregular workers’ working conditions, rather than improving working conditions for the unionized members. It is hard to understand what the unions want their companies to do about the issues when these problems are hard even for the government to resolve.
Looking at such behavior by militant unions, one can understand why our country’s competitiveness is low, even though our economy is the world’s 12th- or 13th-largest. The International Institute for Management Development, or IMD, recently said labor-management relations in Korea ranked 56th out of 57 countries.
Labor unions are interest groups. It is understandable to some extent that they pursue their own interests. However, union members are citizens as well.
As Minister of Strategy and Finance Yoon Jeung-hyun said recently, it will take a long time before the economy recovers. The International Monetary Fund predicts that the global economy will not recover until the second half of next year, at the earliest. According to the IMD’s survey, our economy’s capacity to overcome a crisis, when the country’s overall management skills and competence are taken into account, ranked 29th out of 57 countries. We are behind our rival Singapore and even Qatar and Malaysia.
If labor-management disputes take place in this situation, the effect on our economy will be disastrous. Last week’s one-week truckers’ strike caused $7.2 billion in losses. The Korea Chamber of Commerce released a survey yesterday showing that 88.6 percent of the people oppose labor unions’ staging strikes for political reasons. If labor unions go against the people’s will, they will only be shooting themselves in the foot.
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