Labor minister presses KCTU to scrap strikes

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Labor minister presses KCTU to scrap strikes

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Labor Minister Lee Ki-kweon meets with reporters Monday at ministry offices in Sejeong. [NEWSIS]

Labor Minister Lee Ki-kweon on Monday implored the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) to call off scheduled one-day strikes aimed at stopping an initiative to overhaul the labor market.

The KCTU has announced a nationwide strike for Saturday.

“If the strikes begin, [the labor unions] will lose public trust,” Lee said at a meeting with journalists Monday morning at Sejong Government Complex. “As one of the main pillars that represents Korean workers, I urge the KCTU to participate in government-employer-labor discussions to successfully conclude labor market reforms, and the fundamental goal lies in solving youth unemployment.”

The Federation of Korean Trade Unions, the nation’s biggest labor organization, initially participated in the trilateral talks, but walked out early this month saying it couldn’t accept measures that would make it easier to lay off underperforming employees, slow adoption of shorter work weeks and implement a peak wage system.

Meanwhile, the KCTU has not participated in the talks, opting instead for one-day strikes by its branches nationwide.

The KCTU opposes changes in the labor law and the pension plan for civil servants. It wants to raise the minimum wage to 10,000 won ($9.30) per hour from the current 5,580 won and Lee to step down as labor minister.

Lee said it is the responsibility of a labor union association to actively participate in the reform talks at a time when youth unemployment remains high, while shifting the focus of the labor movement to enhancing conditions for more workers instead of only for its members.

“The labor market reform is mostly about enhancing existing policies that are aimed at improving employment for youths [by narrowing the gap between regular and contract workers] and reducing the tax burden for future generations [by changing the public employee pension system],” said Lee. “Most members of the public and both the ruling and opposition parties have reached a consensus on the need for overhaul. But the KCTU is opposing everything.”

Lee emphasized that the government’s policies and plans to revise legislation should not be the subject of strikes.

“The legislature also said last week that it will respond to any illegal strikes, but I think it is my job as labor minister to prevent union members from suffering disadvantages by joining illegal strikes,” he said.

Mentioning that dinosaurs ended up facing extinction due to lack of food after eating up all the grass by consuming as much as a ton a day, Lee pointed out that the labor market reform, through sharing jobs and benefits, will eventually result in a healthy business environment for both conglomerates and small companies, and a mutually beneficial work environment for both the younger and older generations.

BY PARK YU-MI, KIM JI-YOON [kim.jiyoon@joongang.co.kr]

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