[Viewpoint] Labor reform once again stuttering

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[Viewpoint] Labor reform once again stuttering

According to the original labor act that was enacted in 1997, labor union representatives were not paid full salaries and multiple unions were allowed to be established. It was a fairly advanced labor law according to international standards.

But because both the union and the management felt uncomfortable with the enforcement, the two clauses have been a dead letter for 13 years. However, the grace period is set to expire at the end of the year, so unless the law is revised, there is no option but to enforce the law. That’s how the discussion for the revision of the Labor Act began this year.

Companies want to stop paying the full-time salary of the union representatives right away, but the unions want to delay the implementation longer.

On the establishment of multiple unions at a single workplace, both management and unions have mixed feelings about the proposal and have failed to come up with a unified position on the matter.

Left unrevised, the 1997 labor act would be a loss for every party, so they reached a dramatic compromise. The labor union representatives will not be paid salaries beginning July 2010, with a six-month grace period. Multiple unions at a single workplace will be allowed starting in July 2010, after a preparation of two years and six months. The government, which was determined to follow the 1997 law, made a concession and accepted the agreement between the unions and management.

The Grand National Party was supposed to revise the labor law based on the tripartite agreement among labor, management and government, but it slyly inserted a clause that was not agreed upon. “Time-off system” is to be applied to “general union management operation.” “Time-off” is a system to consider the time they spend on necessary and inevitable labor operation as an extension of work and pay wage for such time.

Management initially opposed the clause since there was room for abuse, but reluctantly agreed to include it to garner consent of the union. If the time-off is expanded to “general union management operation,” then the no-salary principle for union representatives would be meaningless. Not much will change since the law prohibits paying salaries to the union representatives but wages will be paid for virtually most union activities.

The completely damaged revised labor act has reached another obstacle in the National Assembly Committee for Environment and Labor. Committee chairwoman Choo Mi-ae of the Democratic Party suggested holding a multilateral meeting that includes the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, which was not a part of the tripartite conference.

The revision of the Labor Act has climbed the mountain and is headed straight to the cliff. Leaders of five economic organizations are pleading to the lawmakers to save the tripartite agreement, but the populist lawmakers hardly care about the labor-management relationship. Paralyzed by the sit-in, the Assembly has not even tackled the budget plan for the next year.

The boat of the revised Labor Act is wrecked even before beginning its voyage.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Jong-soo
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