Two-faced response

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Two-faced response

Korea’s five major business associations, including the Federation of Korean Industries, have refused to accept the last-minute deal reached at the tripartite committee representing labor, companies and the government after 12 months of arduous negotiations for labor reforms. In a joint statement yesterday, the five groups contended that it is apparent that genuine labor reforms would be impossible
under the trilateral agreement. They went so far as to proclaim that they will make a last attempt to achieve labor reforms by submitting petitions for legislation to the National Assembly.

We are dumbfounded at their announcement. At the very moment when they made the joint statement, Bahk Byong-won, chairman of the Korea Employers Federation, which took part in the negotiations on behalf of the corporate sector, and Park Yong-maan, chairman of the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry, signed the agreement at the tripartite committee. That translates into a brazen two-faced strategy by the corporate sector, as some members support the reforms while others oppose them. They are determined to push forward legislation through their own lobbying.

The opponents argue that they took the action because the agreement didn’t include detailed action plans demanded by the corporate sector. That lays bare their sheer ignorance. There is no country whatsoever that offers detailed implementation plans on par with legal documents immediately after concerned parties reach a consensus. As it turned out, the official title of the Netherlands’ 1982 Wassenaar
Agreement is “General recommendations on aspects of an employment policy,” a broad consensus on the directions of future employment policies. The responsibility for the rest — drafting bills in line with the guidelines, for instance — falls on the government.

Business owners must respect their employees and labor unions must take action to help companies reap more profits. If what the business organizations say is right, concerned parties had better organize a committee of lawyers to prepare detailed clauses for actions and then draft legislation based on an agreement between labor and management. That constitutes a shameless disrespect for the legislature and a blatant rejection of the government’s role.

As long as they oppose the deal just because they don’t like everything about it, labor reforms will remain a remote dream. Unions and employers must give up vested interests when the need arises. They must do some serious soul-searching.

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