Finance minister chides unions

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Finance minister chides unions

Finance Minister Yoo Il-ho lambasted the ongoing strikes in the financial, health, rail and auto industries, calling them “acts of excessive collective selfishness,” during a meeting with economic ministers on Wednesday.

The minister threatened that the government would deal with the walkouts according to the law, saying no wages would be provided for workers on strike.

“Despite their high income and secure jobs, these acts of excessive collective selfishness to protect their vested interests will not be able to avoid the public’s criticism,” Yoo said during the meeting at the Export-Import Bank of Korea in Yeouido, western Seoul.

“Since the labor unions of the rail and subway systems serve the public, the public hospitals should be protecting the people’s health and financial institutions supply [money] to the economy, the burden of the strikes will be shouldered by the public.”

The financial industry’s labor union kicked off its first strike in two years on Friday, protesting a government initiative to expand a performance-based salary program to junior-level employees next year.

The union claims the new salary system threatens job security and will make it easier for managers to fire people. The Korean Financial Industry Union said it would hold another massive strike in November if their demands were not met before then.

The labor union of Seoul National University Hospital as well as union members from Korea’s rail and subway systems walked out on Tuesday for the same reasons. This is the first time in 22 years that rail and subway workers have gone on a joint strike.

“Reforms in the wage systems to be based on work and performance were agreed to in the trilateral agreement among the labor unions, managements and government on Sept. 15 [last year], and they are not meant to make the firing of employees with low performance easy,” Yoo said. “It is to raise the management efficiency of public institutions and build a society that is work-centered and not based on age or educational background. It is a project that must be practiced.”

The finance minister called the labor movement’s strikes and demands for a “rigid and illogical wage system” outdated and said it was “eating into the country’s competitiveness.”

Since July, continuous walkouts by Hyundai Motor’s union members have added up to an accumulated loss of 2.5 trillion won ($2.28 billion), Yoo said. “On top of the shipbuilding industry’s restructuring, [the strike] is leading to anxieties over job security and contraction in regional economies.”

He added that under the current wage systems, more jobs, especially for young people, will be lost since companies will be hesitant to make investments or new hires due to high costs and low efficiency.

“[The labor strike] is the same act as pouring cold water on the people’s efforts in structural reform and economic recovery,” Yoo said.


BY LEE HO-JEONG [lee.hojeong@joongang.co.kr]

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