Embodying a grand compromise

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Embodying a grand compromise

The Federation of Korean Trade Unions, one the country’s two largest umbrella union groups, announced that it would return to the tripartite dialogue channel with the government and employers. The tripartite committee had been inactive since union representatives walked out amid a public railroad workers’ strike in December protesting the government’s restructuring plan.

Next week, the tripartite committee will hold its first meeting in eight months with representatives from the government, employers and unions. From the government, Finance Minister Choi Kyung-hwan, who is also the deputy prime minister of the economy; Lee Ki-kweon, minister of employment and labor; and Yoon Sang-jick, minister of trade, industry and energy, will attend the dialogue in an attempt to demonstrate how much the government prizes the normalization of labor management in its efforts to revive the economy.

Labor issues are at the heart of a myriad of problems plaguing Korean society. If workers and management cannot collaborate for the common good, the economy will never really be able to recover. The two sides are at odds over reinterpreting the scope of base salary, shortening working hours and extending the retirement age following changes in administrative guidelines. The new economic team hopes to revitalize the domestic demand and the economy through increasing incomes. The plan, however, cannot be realized without improving the working conditions of irregular workers who make up the bulk of the country’s work force. Reform in public enterprises also cannot progress unless it has the support and understanding of the labor sector. An array of labor issues cannot be resolved unless they are addressed as a packaged compromise among the representatives of economic parties. The tripartite committee - albeit without a labor presence - agreed last month to work toward a “grand social compromise.”

But the future dialogue should not be a contentious forum to argue and champion self-interests. Instead, each party must work as a responsible, representative voice in trying to find ways to restore the economy and build stronger ground for the country’s future. They must work to seek out the best possible arrangement. They are relied upon to pave a common and symbiotic path for Korea. We urge the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, which sponsors unions among the largest manufacturers, to join the committee and this common path.

JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 14, Page 30

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