Side with the people

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Side with the people

President Moon Jae-in’s campaign promise to eliminate all contract workers from the public sector in order to win votes of unions has boomeranged. In the middle of the worst economic crisis coupled with a Sino-U.S. trade war and economic retaliation from Japan, the militant Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) is fighting the government to safeguard its own interests after turning a blind eye to our grim realities.

The KCTU continued a three-day general strike today demanding that no contract worker should remain in the public sector. Tens of thousands of cooks, nutritionists and afterschool teachers from elementary, middle and high schools across the nation participated in the strike. An association representing them demanded a 6.24 percent pay increase and the same treatment as full-time teachers. Members of another union representing toll collectors blocked an entrance to highway toll gates in Seoul for two hours Thursday to demand the Korean Expressway Corporation (KEC) directly hire them, and stop employing them via outside agencies.

The KEC had set up a sister company to change the workers’ status to full-time salaried employees. And yet some unionists kept striking to demand the direct hiring by the mother company. After being released from six days in detention for orchestrating violent rallies in front of the National Assembly, Kim Myeong-hwan, chairman of the KCTU, ferociously attacked the Moon Jae-in administration for not fulfilling its campaign promise to completely remove contract workers from the public domain. “They are outraged over the government dragging its feet on this fundamental issue over the last two years,” he fumed.

The KCTU’s excessive demands can explain the liberal administration’s lenient attitude toward unions. The government tried to put the president’s promises into action to the extent that he visited Incheon International Airport shortly after his election and repeated his promise to put workers on the full-time payroll. Moon — and Korea — are paying a high price for one campaign promise.

The government’s effort to address unfair treatment of contract workers should continue. But it can hardly change everyone’s underprivileged status overnight. In the face of the KCTU’s hard line even after the government accommodated most of its demands, some in the government and the ruling Democratic Party demanded “common sense” from the government. The administration and ruling party must represent the people first, not a union with one million members.

JoongAng Ilbo, July 5, Page 30
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