Paying heed to public sentiment
The author is an industry 1 team reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Recently, Sohn Kyung-shik, CJ Group chairman and president of the Korea Enterprises Federation (FEF), proposed merging the organization with the Federation of Korean Industries (FKI). Repenting that the opinions of the companies were not reflected in the government and ruling Democratic Party (DP)’s draft of the corporate regulatory bills starting last year, Sohn argued that the two business lobby groups needed to raise one voice. The FKI oppose the merge as the two need to play separate roles under the circumstances where the union-management conflict is still severe and the public’s anti-corporate sentiment is strong.
As Sohn said, business owners were helpless before the DP with 180 seats in the course of discussing the three corporate regulatory bills, including the serious disaster punishment act. But if a unified group had raised one voice, would it have made a difference? The side with the power to make regulations are only afraid of public opinions and their impact on the next election, not the size of interest groups. Sohn may be attempting to absorb the FKI as he is concerned about losing his stature when organizations of similar sizes, like the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) and the Korea International Trade Association (KITA), are being headed by relatively more powerful SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won and LS Group Chairman John Koo, respectively.
The biggest weapon for the management to confront politicians’ regulatory moves is friendly public opinion. Then, there should be examples of “What’s good for companies are also good for me.” But the reality points in the other direction. According to a recent survey by the KCCI, 61 percent of jobseekers between age 19 and 34 responded that their job search was “a mere formality” or they “stopped finding jobs” or “rarely engaged in job search.”
Of the respondents, 47 percent said they are not actively job-searching because companies prefer experienced workers. CEOs in IT and semiconductor industries hold meetings these days to appease employees’ discontent over bonuses, and some game companies are even competing to raise pay. But many young people who couldn’t joined them don’t associate with these stories. Company management’s claim that various government regulations make them suffer are not convincing.
At this juncture, it is not the urgent issue to fight over whether companies must unify or not. The biggest homework for them is to resolve the anti-corporate sentiment originating with job and income disparity and politicians’ attempt to capitalize on the sentiment.
The homework is given to Chey Tae-won, John Ku, and Huh Chang-soo of the FKI, who have recently been appointed or reappointed. When they have the public opinion on their side, they would naturally have one voice and bigger power.