Even hand vital for ministerGrand National Party lawmaker Yim Tae-hee is poised to be named the new labor minister. With more labor-related issues on the table than in previous administrations, Yim’s position as the nation’s chief of labor policy carries a great deal of responsibility. First, he will have to resolve key pending matters such as allowing dual labor unions within the same company and abolishing paid positions for union members who only perform union duties. Yim will also need to present realistic solutions to the irregular worker problem. And dealing with the massive civil servants’ union, which recently joined the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, won’t be a cakewalk, either.
The labor and business circles have more concerns about Yim than expectations for him. In past governments, several lawmakers-turned-labor ministers catered to popular opinion and hurt labor-management relations more than they helped. During the Roh Moo-hyun administration, Labor Minister Lee Sang-soo attempted and failed to recognize three basic labor rights - to organization, to collective bargaining and to collective action - for a million specialized workers, including insurance planners.
To efficiently resolve labor problems and help improve labor-management relations, the minister must not worry about what is popular. Instead he should follow his own convictions and principles. One of those principles would be the global standard. Dual unions and specialized union representatives are hot potatoes, but the solution isn’t that difficult to find.
We simply have to follow the past example of developed nations as we resolve these issues. Korea is the only OECD member not to permit dual unions, and though companies paying individuals just to carry out union tasks has been a chronic problem here, you’ll be hard pressed to find examples of it in other nations. Yim pledged to do away with this practice, and he had better live up to those words. Since dual unions could cause another sort of conflict, the minister must gather expert opinions and prepare appropriate measures.
For problems with no applicable global standard, we have to rely on practicality. The issue of irregular workers is a result of the rigid Korean labor market. Common sense dictates that if you want to have an equal share of a small pie, then someone has to compromise. So to resolve the irregular workers conundrum, regular workers, who have more power, must make concessions and the market must be more flexible.
The rule of law must be the basis for these strategies. And the minister must earn the trust of both labor and the management that the government won’t take sides. To do that, he must treat illegal practices by both sides the same.