Rework labor union billThe amendment to the Trade Union and Labor Relations Adjustment Act unveiled last week by the Grand National Party has provoked the criticism that it goes against the tripartite agreement worked out between labor, management and the government. The criticism is largely focused around the issue of wage payments to full-time union representatives, which the parties involved had agreed to ban. However, the GNP bill contains a loophole that would in effect make the ban void. In response to protests from the business community, ruling party lawmakers pointed to the bill, which says that “If stipulated in a collective bargaining agreement or accepted by the employer, a full-time representative can work on general labor union duties without loss in wages. The duties will be defined by a presidential decree.”
However, we cannot put our heads in the sand like an ostrich. If the collective bargaining agreement states that most labor union activities fall under the scope of “general duties,” full-time workers can receive a considerable portion of their wages. As it would be nearly impossible for a presidential decree to outline every labor union activity, labor law experts insist that the effectiveness of the ban falls short of expectations. In addition, if paid labor union activities are allowed on the premise of the collective bargaining agreement, it is highly likely that the conflict between labor and management will be further aggravated. Although large, militant trade unions may try to increase the number of paid full-time workers, smaller unions will certainly have difficulty doing the same.
We presume that the reason the ruling party decided to change the wage ban lies in their efforts to deal with the lower branch of the Federation of Korean Trade Unions, which was strongly opposed to the existing agreement. The party’s position is understandable, given the local elections next year. However, the party should not carelessly overthrow a policy pledge likely to exert a significant influence on people’s lives. Furthermore, GNP lawmakers have said that unpaid full-time employment for union members is necessary to facilitate the advancement of labor-management culture.
We have continued to insist that paid full-time employment, which has a negative influence on labor-management relations, should be wholly repealed. The party still has time to change the bill. The wage ban system should be viewed as a realistic alternative that takes into account global standards and our economic conditions. We hope that the amendment will be revised again to conform to the original agreement. This is the only way to avoid the criticism that they sacrificed the advancement of labor-management culture for the sake of populism.