No exception whatsoeverPublic sector labor unions have kicked off one general strike after another. Following earlier walkouts by the Korean Financial Industry Union and the Korean Public Service and Transport Workers’ Union, the Korean Health and Medical Industry Workers’ Union whose members include public hospitals and private universities’ hospitals joined the strike yesterday. It is regrettable that they are only bent on protecting their own interests.
The simultaneous strikes by the railway and subway workers ring alarm bells across the country. After the strikes, Seoul subways are crammed with passengers, and temporary railroad engineers are having trouble running the Metro.
The unions are staging the strikes to avoid the introduction of a performance-based pay the government is trying to implement starting next January to raise the competitiveness and efficiency of the public sector. The government hopes to allow qualified workers to receive better treatment after abolishing the worn-out, seniority-based payment system. But the unions are vehemently protesting the change because they fear the possibility of the new system being used as a convenient means to fire employees. They argue that if the public sector is preoccupied with efficiency, it could damage the public purpose of the system.
Both sides are in a war of nerves. While the unions assert that their strikes are legitimate because “the issue of a performance-based salary system was not discussed in the negotiation” between both sides, the government regards the strikes as unlawful because “it is allowed by the law to change pay systems for the public sector.” The government maintains that if the unions refuse to participate in the negotiation, that’s a dereliction of duty.
We are deeply concerned about the likelihood of a prolonged strike along with protracted legal debates. That will surely hurt our already slowed economy. The unions need to be reminded that one of the major reasons for Korea to remain at 26th place in individual countries’ national competitiveness for three years in a row is its alarmingly low efficiency — 77th — in the labor market.
Reform of the public sector is what we need. If the government wants to reshape our overly lax organizations, it must first revamp the areas of personnel and wage systems. If the public sector adheres to a sclerotic and outmoded pay systems in the face of a fourth industrial revolution, they cannot make flexible and elastic organizations. We urge the unions to join the government’s effort to establish rational pay systems as soon as possible.
JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 29, Page 34