Fewer workers to be paid to conduct union affairs

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Fewer workers to be paid to conduct union affairs

A new regulation will drastically limit the number of union officials to whom companies pay full-time wages to conduct union affairs rather than company business, in a move hailed by businesses and excoriated by the unions.

The decision by a committee of Korean labor, management and government members that was established this year will take effect beginning July 1. The measure was passed at 2:56 a.m. Saturday after a marathon negotiation session that began at 3 p.m. Friday.

The measure follows an agreement earlier this year to adopt a “time-off system” that would pay union officials wages only for the time they spend conducting specific union duties, including labor-management negotiations, consultations and industrial safety inspections.

“Only full-time union members are eligible for the time-off system, and it’s labor and management’s job to discuss the rest of the matters concerning labor issues,” said Kim Tai-gi, a Dan-kook University economics professor who chairs the three-party committee concerning the time-off system.

The new measure will limit the number of full-time union members at a company to a maximum of 24, depending on the size of the company’s workforce and the size of the labor union.

For example, a company that employs more than 15,000 members of a labor union will be required to pay full-time wages to only 24 members who work on union business full-time, while companies which employ 40-100 union members will support only one full-time union worker.

The companies will pay each of the full-time union members for a maximum of 2,000 hours per year, and any other time devoted to union activities must be recompensed by the union itself under the new regulation. While a union may keep more than the maximum number of full-time workers at a company, it will be required to pay the wages of any additional workers out of its own pocket, Kim explained.

“The measure is to sever large companies’ long-held practice of paying too many workers for full-time union activities,” Kim said. The new regulations allow the unions enough manpower to guarantee basic labor rights without excessive costs to small and midsized companies, he said.

Hyundai Motor, Korea’s largest employer of union members, currently pays wages to 232 full-time union workers. After July 1, the company will pay only 24 of these workers for union activities.

Labor and businesses had predictably mixed reactions to the committee’s announcement.

“The committee’s measure aims to wipe out labor unions,” said Woo Moon-sook, an external affairs official at the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions.

The confederation and Korea’s other umbrella union, the Federation of Korean Trade Unions, argued the committee’s measure is invalid, as it was passed after the April 30 deadline.

Management, meanwhile, hailed the decision.

“The measure will change the practice of a full-time labor union member who devoted all his time to labor issues after he got the job,” a businessman who asked not to be named said.

“It will also be effective in terms of cutting down the number of union members who lead labor strikes and demonstrations.”

By Kim Mi-ju, Kim Ki-chan [mijukim@joongang.co.kr]
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