Labor reforms matter

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Labor reforms matter

The labor reform agenda is deadlocked again. A committee of representatives from the government, labor unions and employers has worked on the reforms after a year of turbulent, on-and-off negotiations.

The reforms have failed to proceed due to legislative obstacles. The main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) calls the five bills designed to reform Korea’s labor sector “evil.”

According to the NPAD’s logic, the government, unions and employers have collaborated to draft evil laws. What authorizes a political party to defame and sabotage the joint work of the government, labor and business sectors?

The labor-related bills are about workplace guidelines, occupational insurance compensation, protection of part-time workers and protection of agency workers. They aim to bring down the work hours in Korea, which are notoriously the longest in the world. They will increase severance pay to help people manage their lives better after losing jobs.

They also include compensation for accidents that occur on the way to work, or on the way home after work, as occupational hazards, and are designed to fix various unfair ways that companies treat their subcontractors.

They also propose to restrict part-time or agency workers being used in lines of work that can be threatening to their health or lives, and impose stricter rules and punishments on employers who discriminate among their employees. How can any of these be considered evil?

The opposition brands the changes wicked by referring to proposals to extend employment periods for contract workers and expand the ratio of agency workers in core industries. We have to wonder if the NPAD knows what it is talking about. Part-time workers must worry about being out of work when their legal contracts end in two years. The revision would allow them to work two extra years and pocket severance pay if they fail to get hired for good after their contracts end.

The new law would let permanent workers get severance pay after working for just three months instead of the current one year. It should be the employers that oppose the changes, which will obviously increase their costs. We cannot understand how the NPAD thinks the changes will boost the part-time workforce.

A survey by the Korea Labor and Employment Relations Association shows that 82.3 percent of workers welcome the extension of legal working years for contract workers.

The parties should have sent the bills to a review subcommittee. But the head of the committee, who is an NPAD member, and the NPAD representative on the committee will both leave the country to attend the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris. Politicians should remember that the voters are watching them - and their trips to Paris.

JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 4, Page 34

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