Trade union group starts voting for relay strikes

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Trade union group starts voting for relay strikes

The nation’s largest trade union and employers’ group are a step closer to open confrontation over the government’s economic revitalization policies.

The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) began voting Saturday on holding seven relay strikes next month in opposition to Finance Minister Choi Kyung-hwan’s policies, including extending benefits for contract workers at the expense of regular employees and overhauling the civil servant pension program.

The Federation of Korean Trade Unions began discussions with the government and the Korea Employers Federation (KEF) aimed at reaching an agreement by the end of March.

In response to the KCTU strike vote, the KEF early Sunday morning issued a statement calling the move an “illegal and political strike” to disrupt the ongoing conversation among labor, management and the government.

“KCTU relay strikes have political demands, such as halting reform of the labor market and civil servant pension program that can’t be reasonable goals of strikes,” said the KEF statement. “These strikes apparently are illegal, because the unions haven’t undergone a mediation process from the labor relations board.”

The KEF also distributed guidelines for member companies on how to deal with KCTU employees who strike. According to the guidelines, for instance, it is illegal for KCTU members to participate in strike votes during work hours.

At a press conference in late February, Han Sang-gyun, head of the KCTU, requested a meeting with President Park Geun-hye to discuss the government’s “chaebol friendly economic revitalization policies” that conflict with the interests of workers. In particular, Han referred to Choi’s remarks that employee benefits for irregular workers should be enhanced by slashing those of regular workers.

The KCTU issued four demands: stop overhauls of the labor market and civil servant pension programs, raise the minimum wage to 10,000 won ($8.90) and enhance basic labor rights.

KCTU voting will run through April 8, with seven one-day strikes by different unions from April 24-30.

The KCTU also plans a Labor Day strike on May 1 and minimum wage strikes in June and November.

BY KIM JOON-SOOL, KIM JI-YOON [kim.jiyoon@joongang.co.kr]

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