Sit-in, scuffles in protest at union leaders’ talks

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Sit-in, scuffles in protest at union leaders’ talks

Scuffles and a sit-in protest by about 100 members of the Federation of Korean Trade Unions forced the cancellation of a meeting of the group’s leaders on Tuesday over controversial labor market reforms.

The federation, one of Korea’s two major union associations, faced the demonstration as the heads of the group were planning to meet to decide whether to return to the negotiating table with representatives of the government and employers.

An hour before the scheduled start of the meeting, about 100 union members entered the building at 10 a.m. and staged a sit-in protest, blocking a narrow aisle at the entrance to the meeting room at the federation’s headquarters in Yeouido, western Seoul.

“A day before, the leadership
decided to resume dialogue with the government and the management,
ignoring opinions from the members,” protesters shouted.

“Without a change in the government’s position on labor reform plans, we will never accept returning to the talks.”

Scuffles broke out when Kim Dong-man, president of the federation with about 800,000 members, tried to enter the meeting room. Protesters blocked his path, preventing Kim from entering the room.

Some of the protesting members entered the president’s office at around 1 p.m. and Kim had closed-door
discussions with them for about 45 minutes.

At around 3:30 p.m., the leadership announced the meeting would be scrapped and rescheduled to Aug. 26.

“Before the meeting scheduled for today, the leadership already decided to resume the trilateral talks [with the government and the employers],” a member in the leadership told the Korea JoongAng Daily.

“Most of the protesters are from unions in metal and chemical
sectors.”

A government official said the federation was struggling with a rift among members over the renegotiations with the government and management.

“Those who are currently communicating with the government [behind-the-scenes] are ‘doves,’” a senior official said.

“The ‘hawks’ are criticizing them, saying the doves are only trying to benefit from the government.”

In April, the representatives of the federation walked away from the trilateral meeting with the counterparts of the government and the employers, protesting two sensitive issues - forcing private companies to adopt the so-called peak wage system and revising the current employment rules to make it easier to dismiss workers accused of underperforming.

The Park Geun-hye administration has recently been urging the adoption of the peak wage system, which it insists will provide more openings for young job seekers.

Without the consensus of the entire membership, the leadership of the federation held a secret meeting with the government and management recently and decided to go back to the bargaining table.

The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, another wing of the nation’s two largest unions’ associations, has refused to attend the talks since 1999.

The government and the employers say Korea’s labor market is too protective of regular workers and needs more “flexibility” so that young, talented but jobless people can be hired.

Protestors say the government should not force companies to adopt the peak salary system, and that increased “flexibility” in the labor market only endangers their job security.


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

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