Government is sitting on its handsCrane operators cannot be recruited to a construction site unless they sign up with one of the country’s two powerful umbrella unions — the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) or the Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU). They are stopped by the union groups from entering the work site if they are not members. Even if revenues decline in the construction industry, builders cannot cut the salaries of crane operators. They’ve had to comply with their demands of wage increases of 7 percent to 8 percent annually. If they do not, crane operators walk out and intentionally delay construction. Their practice was condoned because builders cannot afford to waste a day.
To save costs, constructors began to employ remote-controlled cranes. The machines increased by more than 1,000 over the last few years. The use of automated machines means much less work for humans.
Crane operators across the nation went on a strike demanding builders to stop employing remote-controlled cranes. Construction sites across the country suddenly came to a stop as 2,500 tower cranes went idle.
A company must endeavor to save costs and crane operators are partly responsible for the surge in replacement machines. Crane operators argue that remote-operated cranes are unsafe, but that can hardly justify their collective action.
The union of Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering (DSME), affiliated with the KCTU, blocked an inspection team from Hyundai Heavy Industries from entering their Geoje, South Gyeongsang, main shipyard to resist the planned merger. It fears a horizontal merger will inevitably lead to business and employee streamlining. DSME has already sucked up over 10 trillion won ($8.4 billion) worth of public funds. A merger of the two biggest shipbuilders is aimed to enhance competitiveness of the Korean shipbuilding industry and its sustainability against Chinese rivals. The union, however, prefers working for a nationalized company as long as their jobs and wages are secure.
Unions are innately selfish, but their use of physical force to disrupt construction and business activities cannot be excused no matter what. The government chooses to stay on the sidelines and the police do not interfere even when unionists ignore court orders. Rioters were let go even when they assaulted the police on the spot. It is no wonder the economy is in a mess.
JoongAng Ilbo, June 5, Page 30
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