DP chairman Lee meets with union leader at Assembly

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DP chairman Lee meets with union leader at Assembly

Lee Hae-chan, chairman of the ruling Democratic Party, met with the leader of one of Korea’s two major umbrella labor unions on Monday to win support for the government’s changing labor policies.

Lee’s meeting with Kim Ju-young, head of the Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU), at the National Assembly came as the other major labor union, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), is planning to carry out a nationwide strike on Wednesday to protest a number of labor policies pushed by the Moon Jae-in administration, such as allowing companies to increase or decrease their workers’ maximum working hours depending on the amount of work needed at a given time.

For example, a company that makes air conditioner parts could increase its working hours to more than 52 hours a week during the high-demand summer season and then correspondingly decrease them during the winter season. The FKTU is considered more moderate than KCTU, which is known for its aggressive street rallies.

“During its rally on Oct. 8, the FKTU raised concerns over the issue of flexible working hours and minimum wage. We will have an in-depth discussion on such issues with [the FKTU president and leadership members] at today’s policy consultative meeting,” said Lee.

Kim of the FKTU said that union members had serious concerns over the Moon government’s “backpedaling” on its initial promises to improve labor rights.

“Less than a year after the government took office with an agenda of setting up a society that respects labor rights, it withdrew its campaign promise to increase the minimum hourly wage to 10,000 won ($8.86) by 2020,” said Kim. He also argued that a policy that would allow companies to increase or decrease working hours at times of high or low work demand was “threatening to nullify the new 52-maximum workweek.”

The Monday meeting came as tensions between the Moon administration and labor unions are brewing. This has come as a surprise, as Moon ran a campaign that promised labor-friendly policies.

There is some degree of conflict between the government and the FKTU, which strongly objects to the government’s flexible approach to the 52 maximum workhours. Tensions are much higher between the government and the KCTU.

One labor policy supported by the FKTU but fiercely opposed by the KCTU involves a joint corporation planned by Hyundai Motor and the Gwangju Metropolitan Government.

Under the proposed agreement between the two, a car assembly line will be built in Gwangju by 2020 at the earliest. Hyundai Motor plans to invest 50 billion won in the 700-billion-won project. Hyundai will invest in the city-owned plant under the condition that it will pay Gwangju assembly workers around half of what it pays other Hyundai assembly workers. Once the factory is operational, it is expected to employ 10,000 workers and create 100,000 more jobs indirectly.

While the FKTU has embraced the proposal, the KCTU has criticized it, saying that it will eventually worsen conditions for other workers. This has further strained relations with the Moon government, which is trying to help Hyundai and Gwangju cut a deal.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]
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