Time to end the Hanjin conflict

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Time to end the Hanjin conflict

The long labor dispute over massive layoffs at Hanjin Heavy Industries is finally reaching a significant turning point. The National Assembly’s Environment and Labor Committee presented to representatives of the shipbuilder’s labor and management a proposal recommending that the company rehire workers who were laid off last year. Hanjin Chairman Cho Nam-ho has accepted.

The proposal suggests that 94 laid-off workers be reemployed within a year, with a maximum of 20 million won ($16,949) provided to each laid-off worker for their living expenses as compensation. The proposal was adopted unanimously by the ruling Grand National Party and opposition parties after efforts to narrow sharp differences in their respective positions.

All parties involved in the dispute appear to have reached a consensus on a macroscopic level. Depending on the choices the two sides make, it is possible for the labor conflict, which has continued for more than nine months since the layoffs and the following general strikes, to come to a halt.

The dispute has emerged as one of the most virulent conflicts in our society. Last weekend, thousands of citizens took part in their fifth “Bus for Hope” rally to advocate for the reinstatement of the laid-off workers and they clashed violently with police.

Though Cho initially said their request for unconditional reinstatement amounted to “pressure to give up our efforts to restructure and survive in tough times,” he has taken a step back this time.

Now it’s the Hanjin labor union’s turn to answer. The labor union and the management resume negotiations today and the prospects are not so dark. The National Steelworkers’ Union, which represents the laid-off workers, looked at the National Assembly’s mediation proposal and gave it a positive review. And Kim Jin-sook, a labor activist from the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, who has been staging a sit-in protest on a crane inside the shipyard for eight months, said that she would come down if labor and management reach an agreement.

Both the labor and the management should respect the spirit of compromise and moderation by refraining from making radical requests to their counterparts. They must have a sincere discussion to determine not only how to restore the vitality of the shipyard but also reinforce our shipbuilding industry’s international competitiveness. If they lose this opportunity, only chaos and confrontation await.
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