Sharing in the nation’s future

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Sharing in the nation’s future


Members of the militant Korean Confederation of Trade Unions participate in a general strike in October last year to oppose government-led labor reforms. [OH JONG-TAEK]

The month of May begins with May Day, followed by Children’s Day and Parents’ Day. In Korea, May is called the “family month.” In 1889, leaders of labor unions gathered to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution and decided to celebrate Workers’ Day on May 1. Most countries around the world celebrate and recognize workers on this day. In the United States and Canada, the first Monday of September is Labor Day. Japan celebrates Labor Thanksgiving Day on Nov. 23. It is not strictly a Labor Day and closer to Korea’s harvest festival or Thanksgiving Day. The Obon holiday on Aug. 15 focuses on paying respect to ancestors, and Labor Thanksgiving is more about celebrating labor and production. The day of celebration for the harvest in the agricultural age has evolved into the concept of a Workers’ Day.

Labor Day is a day to celebrate and recognize hardworking mothers, fathers, sons and daughters. There is no reason for argument. But May Day has become a day of discord in Korea. Unions organize rallies, and employers avoid getting involved. It almost seems like a day for antagonism to explode.

A sense of partnership and a culture of brotherhood can overcome crisis. They are especially valuable when restructuring is in progress. But tensions often escalate as the unions of regular workers abuse their influence, and corporate executives are also overly bossy.

Even when a company is struggling, some militant unions push for additional benefits, and we have seen many chief executives who choose to sell shares and leave at times of crisis. They all want to take advantage of the situation and exercise only their rights.

Politicians and the government are not much different. The turmoil over candidate nominations during the last general election was caused by abuse of power and influence. The politicians were not interested in what the citizens wanted. Factions threatened they would only give nominations to those who follow. Just like politicians, the government and public agencies have messy situations over appointments and promotions.

A public servant who was promoted to department head earlier this year resigned after three months, and the position has been vacant for over 15 days. He resigned over friction with a Blue House aide. Last year, he was awarded a medal, recognition for his performance in the government. But he had to leave the office overnight. Public servants cannot work according to their convictions. Public servants are only content and proud when they can establish good policies for the nation and the people.

An indifferent attitude means a lack of conviction, and conviction is the pride of public servants. If the organization discourages people with beliefs and principles, no good policy can be promoted and implemented.

The Ministry of Personnel Management analyzed that it takes over 500 days to establish a new policy when the head of an agency is replaced. The rules have been revised so that a public servant higher than head of the team can be reassigned after at least two years of service, to allow team leaders to gain expertise and work with conviction. The change was made only last year, and before it can be enforced, the rule is already being undermined by power dynamics.

Government agencies also have the same issues. High positions are occupied by politicians, and hardworking employees cannot dream of being promoted. They just focus on keeping their job.

Hopefully, no Blue House secretary will actually make orders against the safety of the people and dodge responsibilities as in “Descendants of the Sun.” Misdirected loyalty can ruin the economy and is far from being creative.

“I always accomplish what seems to be impossible.” This is what we want to hear from public servants working for the people, from CEOs who don’t neglect management duties, from union leaders who care about a company’s struggle and from politicians who understand the gravity of citizens. And they should also have the generosity to share a cookie even in desperate situations for the future of the economy and the nation.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 2, Page 28

*The author is an editorial writer and senior reporter on labor affairs for the JoongAng Ilbo.

Kim Ki-chan
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