[Letters] Tripartite agreement on labor

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[Letters] Tripartite agreement on labor

The tripartite standing committee of Korean labor, management and government announced a “breakthrough” agreement on the implementation of permitting multiple unions at each work site and the wage ban for paid (by employers) full-time union leaders for their union activities.

This agreement, in my view, is far from a breakthrough, and in fact is little more than “much ado about nothing.” The agreement is simply a declaration of status quo on these troublesome and yet important issues. If anything, the agreement may be viewed as an overwhelming victory for labor.

Take the matter on the ban on union leaders receiving full-time wages for their full-time union work. The agreement now calls for paid “time-off” for labor-management activities such as collective bargaining and grievance processing work. Suppose some union leaders get together in a bar or restaurant to discuss union business during a work day, and they also spend a few minutes talking about pending grievances. According to the agreement worked out by the tripartite committee, the employer has to pay them wages for their time spent in the bar or the restaurant, since they did in fact discuss pending grievances, albeit a few minutes on it and hours on union business. Who is to demand (and how) a proof that their meeting was or was not labor-management related business? Or, if some union leaders claim that they were working on grievances and bargaining-related matters, at their homes, beaches or wherever, would they not get paid time off, for their “work?”

What about the multiple union issue? Each work site can have only one union and bargaining agent under the current law. Multiple unions are allowed under the law, but the provision has been on hold for the past 13 years. Putting the provision in effect had been delayed several times since its passage in 1997. The new tripartite agreement placed a moratorium on it for three more years, yet again. In other words, what had been written into law 13 years ago will not take effect until 2012, if then. Who is to say that there will not be another moratorium three years from today? The incumbents, the FKTU and KCTU affiliates will not have to worry about competing unions for another three years. Thirteen years should have been time enough for them to solidify their power bases against any potential challengers, but they insist that they need more time (and they got it).

One interesting irony about this tripartite agreement is that the FKTU perhaps is not the real winner, despite its diligent, smart and successful outmaneuvering of the management and government representatives. The KCTU, who had refused to participate in the tripartite meetings, may well be the real winner. The KCTU can always blame it on all three of them - the FKTU in particular, should anything go wrong with the agreement - and find more ammunition for the KCTU against its archenemy FKTU. If not, it can continue to work up some token opposition rallies, sit back and enjoy the gain that it achieved without firing a single shot.

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