Compromise time

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Compromise time

Despite Sunday’s last-minute agreement, albeit tentative, among unions, employers and the government over labor reforms, three concerned parties seem to have a long way to go. At Monday’s meeting of the executive committee of the Federation of Korean Trade Unions — a pillar of the tripartite committee on labor reforms — Kim Man-je, chairman of the combative Metal Workers’ Union, tried to set himself on fire with inflammable liquids in protest of a “disappointing deal,” followed by ehement opposition by some core members of the
union.

Political circles, workers and companies also appear to have different goals. Kim Moo-sung, chairman of the ruling Saenuri Party, praised the deal at the tripartite meeting by saying, “The deal has set a new milestone for labor-management relations as it reflected their desires for co-prosperity.” But Lee Jong-kul, floor leader of the opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy, criticized the deal as it “would worsen the quality of people’s lives and their employment,” signaling a head-on clash with the ruling party when lawmakers deliberate on the bills later on.

The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, a more hard line umbrella group that didn’t take part in the committee, joined the chorus by denouncing the bargain as “the labor sector’s worst collusion with business owners and the government because it accepted the government’s call for eased regulations on firing and hiring of employees.” The corporate sector wasn’t much different. Though companies welcome the deal in principle, they express strong disappointment at the agreement that dismissals of workers for underperformance in workplaces and easing regulations on new hiring should be subject to a consensus between workers and companies.

In other words, conflict is simmering regardless of the hard-earned agreement. A grand compromise that can satisfy all parties can hardly be reached given the intricately connected interests. Therefore, each party should yield and make progress toward a bigger consensus.

Politicians, labor and management have to respect the agreement. In particular, lawmakers must not use the deal for any political bargains. They should not follow in the footsteps of the ruling and opposition camps, which led to crippled operations of the National Assembly after they agreed to an increase in the income replacement rate of the national pension programs — an issue totally irrelevant to the original task of overhauling the debtridden civil servant pension system.

The latest agreement was reached after more than 100 meetings. Politicians must not bruise the spirit of consensus because of their short-term political interests. If they drag their feet on the legislation or revise it for the worse, social conflict will explode. It is time for them to strike a grand compromise for the bigger cause of creating more jobs for our young generation.

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