United front on labor policy

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United front on labor policy

The Korea Employers Federation, the Federation of Korean Trade Unions and the Ministry of Labor last week reached an agreement to allow multiple unions in a single workplace while banning companies from paying wages to full-time labor representatives. Yet there are a lot of hurdles to overcome until this new policy is enacted.

The agreement is an entanglement of various interests represented by different groups. In addition, the opposing political parties and the other umbrella union, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, are against the agreement while insisting it was made behind closed doors.

However, the agreement should be recognized for the difficult compromises made by the parties involved. In particular, we applaud the Federation of Korean Trade Unions’ decision to accept the “time-off system” that prohibits wage payments to full-time union representatives despite their previous concern that the new policy would limit labor union activities.

This is the nation’s first step toward adopting global standards for labor unions, which has been on hold for 13 years.

Of course the new policy is very different from the original government plan that was scheduled to begin in January 2010. Under the agreement, payments will not be made to full-time labor union officials until July 2010, while multiple unions will be allowed from July 2012. But in some ways, the agreement has also prevented greater confusion over labor policy.

In joining the agreement, the Korea Employers Federation took a step back from insisting on a full non-payment policy to accepting the “time-off” system. In addition, the Labor Ministry accepted arguments by the labor and business community that they would need time to prepare for the establishment of the multiple unions. The government’s decision not only eases the concerns of the labor union and business groups but also follows labor laws.

Next, the three parties need to focus on specifying how the policy will be enacted. For example, in the “time-off” system, if labor union activity is expanded the adoption of the system will become meaningless. It is the same with the policy on multiple unions. All three parties need to work hard to overcome the past and maintain a healthy relationship.

If Korea’s labor culture, which is one of the worst in the world, improves to the level of developed countries, there is no reason for companies to oppose the establishment of multiple unions. Now the ball has been passed to the politicians. The ruling and opposition parties have to reflect as much of the proposal made by the labor union, companies and the government when they begin making the new labor law.
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