Employers, unions still divided after meeting

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Employers, unions still divided after meeting

A trilateral body to revise working conditions for temporary workers failed to reach an agreement, as unions rebuffed the government’s proposal to enable employers to hire temporary workers for an even longer period.

The Economic and Social Development Commission, an arbitration body under the Blue House that manages talks between representatives from employers and unions, held a trilateral meeting on Monday, but later announced it had failed to narrow the gap between the two parties.

“Both unions and employers will hold their own meeting [Tuesday] and collect opinions from their members,” said Song Wi-sup, chair of the special committee for structural reform for labor market under the commission, at a briefing on Monday. “We will send [a report on] their conflicting issues to the assembly tomorrow.”

The most contentious issue is whether to extend the current two-year probationary period for temporary workers, by revising the “Act on the Protection, etc. of Fixed-term and Part-time Workers.”

Under the act, if employers hire temporary workers between the ages of 35 and 54 for two years, they must rehire them as full-timers. To avoid the situation and save labor costs, many employers in Korea evade the mandatory rule by laying off them before the expiration and hiring new workers.

Supported by representatives from government-designated labor market specialists, the employers proposed to extend the period up to four years on the consent of the workers.

Unions protested, saying the revision would only lead to more temporary jobs. They claim employers were trying to change the law because they want to keep temporary workers for a longer period without giving them a full-time job.

The government backed the employers, saying it would take at least four years for a company to be able to decide whether or not a temporary worker should come on full-time.

Employment and Labor Minister Lee Ki-kweon vowed to push forward with the revision of the act despite the unions’ protests.

“Now it’s time for us to make a decision,” Lee said at a parliamentary hearing by lawmakers at the assembly on Monday. “When we introduced the act [in 2008], the trilateral commission discussed the issue for nearly two years but couldn’t reach an agreement. So the lawmakers designed the act based on advice from labor market specialists.”

The government says the revision on temporary jobs would give Korea’s job market “more flexibility” and “competitiveness,” claiming Korea’s rigid labor market hinders overseas investment in Korean companies.

Opposition lawmakers criticized the attempt.

“Extending the probation is absolutely going in the opposite direction of the initial purpose of the act, intended to protect temporary workers,” said Rep. Lee Seok-hyun from the New Politics Alliance for Democracy, at the hearing on Monday. “The revision could worsen the working conditions [of temporary workers.]”

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