Support the time-off system

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Support the time-off system

An act that could bring about sweeping changes in the labor movement took effect yesterday.

The time-off system — which would require employees to take time off from work for labor activities — will reign in the expansion of union activities and decrease the presence of unions in general.

Workers taking leave from their usual duties to do work for the union have long enjoyed a full payroll package, despite the 1997 Labor Act, which bans companies from paying full-time unionists. The new time-off system, which limits the number of union representatives a company can hire to 24, will inevitably reduce the number of full-time employees in unions and also hamper their activities. It also prohibits companies from going beyond the established quota and is thus beneficial to contract employees.

But the system faces many hurdles before it takes root in the labor arena. The unions of Kia Motors and GM Daewoo Motor have already declared a walkout to protest the time-off system. Hard-line union organizations and some politicians are demanding that the Labor Act be rewritten. Some companies are attempting to strike under-the-table pay agreements to appease union representatives. These companies have proposed that extraordinary accounts be created to subsidize the salaries of union office staff.

Attempts to pay off the union to avoid a clash, however, can be little more than a stopgap measure. But that is what the trade union is after — to manipulate the company into rendering the time-off system invalid.

The actions that Kia Motors and GM Daewoo Motor take against the union — now that it has pledged to strike — will determine the fate of the time-off system. The management must overturn the union’s outdated framework despite the immediate pain and losses it may incur. It must show that the union’s antiquated strategy of going on strike to gain concessions from the management can no longer work.

The labor community should stop clinging to customary practices. They should look at the example set by the Hyundai Heavy Industries union. The union decided to cut the number of full-time members on staff from 55 to 30. Furthermore, the 30 members agreed to pay for 15 of the remaining staff members themselves by streamlining union operations. Other unions should do the same.

Furthermore, financial independence can enhance the union’s voice and justify its cause for protest. In the beginning, clashes may be inevitable. But in the long run, the program will bring good to both labor and management.

The time-off system is a byproduct of a tripartite agreement among the government, legislative and labor forces. It is important that it take root and grow.

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