Sides make ‘significant advancements’ in reform talks

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Sides make ‘significant advancements’ in reform talks

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From left: Korea Employers’ Association Chairman Bahk Byong-won, Korea Tripartite Commission Chairman Kim Dae-hwan, Federation of Korean Trade Union President Kim Dong-man and Minister of Employment and Labor Lee Ki-kweon, at the Central Government Complex in central Seoul on Thursday. [NEWSIS]

Unions, companies and the government said they were a step closer to agreement on labor reforms Thursday, in particular on the two biggest issues - the peak wage system and layoffs of underperforming employees - on the day of a government-set deadline.

These issues broke the previous round of talks, when the head of the labor representatives and the mediation committee chairman walked out in April.

The negotiating committee held a press conference at around 4 p.m. Thursday saying the three sides made “significant advancements in the negotiations so that we jointly started writing drafts of a mediation document, which each party can use in discussing how to cope with the two core issues.”

The four top negotiators - Korea Employers’ Association Chairman Bahk Byong-won, Korea Tripartite Commission Chairman Kim Dae-hwan, Federation of Korean Trade Union President Kim Dong-man and Minister of Employment and Labor Lee Ki-kweon - met Thursday from 11 a.m. through 4 p.m. for what the government hoped would be the last negotiation at the Central Government Complex in central Seoul. After a break to confer with their organizations, they were to meet again after the Korea JoongAng Daily deadline.

“Each side’s representatives will meet again at 9 p.m. after discussions with their members,” said Kim, the committee’s chairman, at a press conference. “If the talk goes well, I think the three parties will reach agreement by midnight.”

“Otherwise, the heads will set up another negotiation session,” Kim added. “We’re willing to meet even on weekends to reach agreement.”

Thursday’s negotiations were the third in this round following talks on Tuesday and Wednesday.

A key point of contention was easing requirements to revise corporate employment regulations, which currently require an employer to get agreement from more than half of the staff. The peak wage system, which reduces employees’ wages as they near retirement age, would need such agreement.

The second-most difficult issue was how to lay off underperformers.

Labor and companies wanted these two issues to be resolved by amending the labor laws.

The government wants to immediately implement the changes by making them guidelines based on the past court rulings.

The peak wage system is supposed to accompany a rise in the retirement age that begins next year and is also supposed to save companies money so they can hire more entry level workers. The government says speed is required for both.

The government has pushed the unions and companies to make the changes as soon as possible since labor reform is a key ambition of the Park Geun-hye administration. Easing youth unemployment - which is about 10 percent - is another goal.

President Park called for progress in negotiations on a visit to Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute for Science and Technology on Monday, saying, “The trilateral talks, which have resumed recently, must reach an agreement to help all parties involved, because this year is our last chance for reforming the labor market.”

Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister for the Economy Choi Kyung-hwan even announced Wednesday that the government will submit its own labor reform bill and an implementation guideline to the national assembly if the two sides fail to make significant progress Thursday.

On the same day, the Finance Ministry also announced that it may not be able to execute the 2016 budget if the trilateral talks don’t succeed.


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

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