Unions fuming after labor report

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Unions fuming after labor report

The state-run Korea Labor Institute released a controversial report last week advising the government to make it easier to legally lay off workers accused of underperforming.

The report angered unions because it rehashed contentious issues discussed at failed negotiations between labor unions and management in April.

Unions have rebuked the government’s call for them to resume talks with management, saying they will not return to the table unless the issue of government reforms to current labor laws are dropped.

On Aug. 1, the state-run Korea Labor Institute issued a press release on its website that included a report titled: “Reasonable HR management Based on Fair Assessment - a Core Task to Build a Performance-based Society.”

That report described three previous rulings by local courts that supported local companies’ decisions to lay off workers accused of underperformance, made between 2012 and 2015.

In a May 2012 ruling, according to the report, a local company identified 91 workers as the bottom 1 percent in terms of performance.

The company sent 52 of them to a “performance-improvement program” designed by the management.

After the program, 13 returned to the workplace and 39 were forced to undergo an additional “reeducation” program.

One worker was fired after the program - the same worker that filed the lawsuit against the management - and 28 others quit. Four retired, the report said.

Despite the plaintiff’s claim of being unfairly laid off, the Supreme Court at the time ruled in favor of the management’s decision.

Since the contents of the report reflected previous government policies, the unions alleged that the report was a government mouthpiece.

“How can the government define ‘the underperforming workers?’” said Lee Ji-hyun, a public relations manager at the Federation of Korean Trade Unions, on Tuesday by phone.

“In Korea, less than 10 percent of companies have unions, and if the government creates a law allowing management to freely lay off workers, there is no way for workers without unions to stand up to the management.

“Without such a legal measure, many private companies are already firing ‘underperforming’ workers on their own,” she said.

Employment and Labor Minister Lee Ki-kweon said at a press meeting on Monday that the government was not trying to make it easier for companies to legally fire workers.

“It is impossible to ease employment rules to make it easier to lay workers off without revising the current law,” Lee said, “[And] the government would not unilaterally support such a revision.”

Despite the protest from unions, however, Lee said he will not exclude the issue from negotiations between unions and management.

“Dialogue for the labor reforms should be immediately resumed,” he said.

“[Unions] should not refuse discussing the matter of establishing a system based on performance assessment.”

BY KIM HEE-JIN [kim.heejin@joongang.co.kr]
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