Tail wags dogThere is an English expression “the tail wagging the dog.” It refers to a situation where an unimportant factor comes to govern an important one, reversing the proper roles. The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) has risen to become the country’s largest trade union.
As soon as it was announced as the biggest umbrella union, the group issued a statement demanding the government to work with it to redesign the labor-management framework to ease inequalities.
The statement underscores its intent to become more vocal in state affairs. The KCTU has kept up anti-market and anti-corporate labor activities. It resorted to strikes to subdue management, drive up wages and gain other concessions. It is how the 12th largest economy in the world achieved a global rank of 130 in terms of labor-management relations.
The umbrella group will become more assertive now that it has 1 million members onboard. It has demanded direct negotiations with the government, circumventing management. It has requested the power to recommend labor representatives to various government committees.
It is rejecting the tripartite dialogue panel and also is out to meddle in state policy and corporate management. Moon Sung-hyun, chair of the tripartite Economic, Social and Labor Council, scorned at the thought of leaving management out of discussions about labor issues.
The government must put its foot down. It has been submissive to the KCTU, which has been regularly reminding the government of its role in the current administration’s rise to power. But it must rebalance the heavily tilted playing field on the labor front.
The steep rise in the minimum wage and cutback in working hours demanded by the KCTU has discouraged corporate investment and wiped out low-skilled and irregular jobs.
The president had to withdraw his first choice for prime minister because of the opposition from the KCTU. Membership in the KCTU increased by 257,000 to 968,000 this year from a year ago, all thanks to the government’s policy of converting irregular workers to a permanent status.
KCTU members make up a mere 2 percent of the Korean population. They are mostly on the payroll of large companies. They have used their mighty umbrella force to ensure employment guarantees and pay by seniority instead of performance, which ended up making their employers seek irregular hires. Their talk of inequality is therefore contradictory. They must join labor reform and pursue cooperative labor relationships to draw capital back to Korea and make more jobs for the young.
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 27, Page 34