A tail wags the dogThe Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) is selfishly seeking its own interests in the face of an unprecedented economic crisis from the Covid-19 outbreak. After the militant umbrella union announced it would not participate in a tripartite meeting among the representatives of companies, unions and the government to tackle the challenges from the Covid-19 pandemic, the government and the corporate sector said they cannot implement their plans to cope with the crisis. That’s a typical case of the tail wagging the dog.
The government, companies and citizens are suffering from hardships due to the pandemic, which is spreading across the globe. After thriving on exports over the past 50 years, the Korean economy is particularly hard hit. In the face of an uphill battle against the virus, our unemployment situation has been worsening and our exports have been declining for three consecutive months. Companies are crying for help.
Therefore, the government prepared for a signing ceremony among stakeholders, citing a strong need for their cooperation in the battle. The leadership of the KCTU agreed to join the ceremony to help Korea Inc. stay afloat. In the meeting, the combative umbrella union was expected to refrain from demanding higher wages in return for companies’ promises to maintain their workforces as much as possible.
Isn’t that fair enough? As the pandemic produced a lot of layoffs across industries, labor and management must share the pain to survive. The government also pledged to help companies by drastically increasing their subsidies despite its worsening fiscal condition. For their part, financial institutions agreed to extend repayments from small- and mid-size companies and the self-employed until after September.
That’s why KCTU Chairman Kim Myeong-hwan chose to participate in the signing ceremony to help the country weather an epochal crisis. If he had appeared, it could have been recorded as a watershed moment in our tumultuous labor-management relations. The last time the umbrella union took part in a grand compromise was 1998, when the country faced a foreign reserve crisis.
But hard-liners in the union group opposed the signing, as seen in over 100 unionists who blocked Kim from entering the room. Despite his plea to respect a trilateral agreement reached after 18 months of negotiations, they did not back down.
Given its pro-labor policies over the last three years, the Moon Jae-in administration is not free from responsibility for the collapse of the meeting. We hope the government persuades the KCTU to return to the negotiating table before it is too late.