On labor strife, live and let liveThe National Assembly’s Environment and Labor Committee, comprised mostly of opposition lawmakers, will launch an extraordinary subcommittee to address the labor issues faced by individual companies. First up is Ssangyong Motor, which has implemented massive layoffs recently, and Samsung Electronics, which received a court order to compensate two factory workers who died of leukaemia. The bipartisan committee also plans to review 58 labor-related bills and two major umbrella union groups, which are pushing to boost ties among workers and politicians by creating a joint committee on labor issues. The hard-won laws that ban staff who work for the union on a full-time basis from receiving salaries may be at risk, along with those that allow competing unions within the same workplace.
Korean lawmakers have the authority to summon corporate executives when necessary, as do their U.S. counterparts. The latter exercised this right by holding hearings seeking accountability after the subprime mortgage crisis that caused the global credit crunch in 2008.
But excessive political interference in management-labor affairs can undermine corporate governance. The National Assembly last year conducted a hearing on Hanjin Heavy Industries during which it grilled executives on their decision to instigate waves of layoffs that led to a prolonged strike and highly publicized protest atop a crane by a female activist. The hearing drew the public’s attention but did little to help the company. An individual company’s labor issues should be left to the concerned parties to settle. Political interference can impair corporate sovereignty and economic principles.
So it seems strange that the legislative committee wants to reopen the issue of Ssangyong Motor’s court receivership and layoffs that took place three years ago. Politicians’ deliberate targeting of large corporations in election season is more likely to dampen corporate and industrial activities than provide economic remedies.
The ruling Saenuri Party has more or less yielded its legislative say regarding labor issues to the opposition by surrendering its majority in the committee. Emboldened by legislative support, unions have scheduled mass strikes this summer and are attempting to join hands with politicians to arm-twist management. Labor-friendly lawmakers are promising their support, a move that could hamstring corporate investment and cause a hiring slowdown.