Corporate culture must changeNationwide labor strife in 1987 was triggered by union members of companies affiliated with Hyundai Motor. During massive rallies in Ulsan at the time, some union members demanded that management allow them to enjoy the freedom to choose their hairstyle and clothes when they went to work. Their catchphrases included “Don’t kick our tibia while wearing your boots!” or “Permit us to walk with our hands in our pockets!” Those were the demands from labor unions about three decades ago. They are unimaginable these days.
The results of the Ministry of Labor’s special inspection of several companies owned by Yang Jin-ho, the chairman of Korea Future Technology, are shocking. Even though the era of authoritarian government and corporations is gone, he wielded his power like one of the tyrants of the past, treating his workers as if they were his slaves inside and outside the office. Sometimes he forced his workers to drink even when they didn’t drink and demanded they smoke when they couldn’t. That’s not all: the chairman maliciously obstructed workers from trying to move to other companies, failed to address sexual harassment claims and did not give allowances to them. The labor ministry confirmed 46 cases of labor law violations.
We want to attribute this behavior to Yang’s individual deviations. But there is no guarantee that these practices are not happening elsewhere. On the website of a civic group devoted to discovering and rooting out this mistreatment of workers, an increasing number of employees are posting complaints about hostile work environments.
We have seen a countless number of cases involving power trips in corporations this year, including the infamous case of the Hanjin Group, the parent company of Korean Air. Companies must be careful about the risk of public outrage over their domineering management of employees. However, unless our corporate culture based on obedience and hierarchy changes, abuse of employees can happen at any time. It is time for companies to do their best to boost communication before it is too late.
Irresponsible and abusive company owners hurt shareholders’ rights and hinder rational management of companies. That also helps foster combative unions. In a corporate culture where owners of companies wield unfettered influence across the board, labor unions can be driven to extremes. The time has come for the unions and corporate leaders to deeply reflect on their shameful behavior and establish new labor relations to meet the demands of the times.
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 6, Page 34