Show some leadershipPresident Moon Jae-in will have a long-awaited dialogue with leaders of labor unions tonight. He plans to invite over 20 leading figures representing the labor sector — including Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU) President Kim Ju-young and the acting president of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) Choi Jong-jin — to the Blue House to talk over pending issues between the sector and the government.
This will be Moon’s first meeting with the labor representatives since taking office in May after having a similar meeting in July with leaders of the corporate sector over beer at the Blue House. The meeting over dinner signifies that he will be treating union leaders as “partners” in managing the country.
We pay special heed to whether Tuesday’s meeting will offer an opportunity for the umbrella unions to return to the tripartite committee along with representatives of employers and the government. The KCTU left the committee in 1999, only a year after the committee’s establishment, over policy disputes. The FKTU quit in 2016 after the Park Geun-hye administration announced two guidelines on changing employment regulations in the direction of allowing employers to lay off employees more easily than before.
Boisterously championing income-led growth, the Moon administration hammered out a wide range of pro-labor policies, including a minimum wage increase, a phasing out of non-salaried workers and reinforcing unemployment benefits. Moon said the government would even attempt to reinterpret existing laws to help reduce working hours if a revised bill fails to pass the National Assembly.
Moon expressed worries about the militant former leader of KCTU, Han Sang-gyun, after he was put behind bars for violating the law. Kim Young-joo, who served as deputy chairperson of the Korean Financial Industry Union, a subsidiary of the FKTU, was appointed minister of employment and labor and Moon Sung-hyun, chairman of the tripartite committee. As a result, business leaders started to criticize a pro-labor tilt by the government.
It is time for Moon to strike a balance. His labor-friendly policies must go together with reforms to enhance labor flexibility. If he really wants to create quality jobs, he needs to get concessions from the corporate sector.
That’s a challenge only a liberal president can — and must — address. Moon is a president representing not only his base but all the people. We hope he displays leadership tonight.
JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 24, Page 34