Labor reform negotiations pushed into 11th hour

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Labor reform negotiations pushed into 11th hour

Negotiators raced against a government-imposed deadline last night to reach an agreement on labor reform plans after President Park Geun-hye vowed to push ahead with unilateral action if a deal was not struck.

As of press time Sunday, negotiators from the government, unions and employers were still deadlocked in talks behind closed doors, facing a midnight deadline. The sides failed to narrow their differences after a five-hour meeting on Saturday.

The three sides have met every day since talks resumed on Aug. 27.

“The president has a strong will [for labor reform],” a Blue House official told the JoongAng Ilbo, an affiliate of the Korea JoongAng Daily. “[She] feels the plenary session at the end of this year will effectively be the deadline to pass a bill on labor reform.

“If they [the negotiators] fail to [reach an] agreement, legislation will be pushed through under the government’s schedule,” the official added.

If the unions and management fail to reach a consensus, the government will enact legal procedures for the plan unilaterally, Minister of Strategy and Finance Choi Kyung-hwan said on Friday.

Unions had refused to agree on the two most sensitive issues in the plan - adopting the so-called peak wage system, which gradually cuts salaries for senior workers years before retirement, and revising the employment law to make it easier for employers to freely lay off underperforming workers.

Unions have said, however, that if the government takes unilateral action, they will hold a general strike in November.

Roughly 5,000 members of the nation’s two largest unions’ associations, the Federation of Korean Trade Unions and the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, staged a joint rally in central Seoul on Saturday to protest the government’s labor reform plan.

“The government is trying to implement the labor reform plan, including a general layoff and performance-based salary system, but we will counter this threat with more powerful fighting,” said Cho Sang-su, a leader of the demonstration. “The government should stop forcing the peak wage system and increase the total budget for job creation for youth.”

Regardless of the protest, government officials will hold a meeting with the ruling Saenuri Party today to prepare legal steps. On Wednesday, the ruling party will make a formal announcement on a detailed plan for reform.

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