[Editorial] A red light still blinking on the economic front

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[Editorial] A red light still blinking on the economic front

Members of the Cargo Truckers Solidarity have returned to work after ending a 16-day strike. The umbrella Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) also called off a second general strike scheduled for Wednesday. Earlier, unions of Seoul Metro and the national railway called off their strike. The combative KCTU’s plan to flex its muscles to the Yoon Suk-yeol administration through chain strikes has flopped. The conservative government’s unshaken policy and cold public response have weakened the belligerent ways of the union group.

A wave of change is sweeping across the labor front. Younger workers have become defiant against the contentious and political direction of the umbrella union. The union of steelmaking giant Posco has bolted out of the Korea Metal Workers’ Union under the KCTU. A third union at Seoul Metro raised its voice against the strike. The union dubbed Allbaleun (meaning “upright” in Korean) was launched by young workers in their 20s and 30s in August last year. Younger employees want to restrict negotiating terms to wage and labor issues and divorce from political affairs.

Although the worst has been averted from the devastating logistics crisis, the Korean economy remains in the tumultuous waters. Data on exports to employment have been flashing red lights. The government estimates our exports to top $680 billion this year to extend their second record-breaking streak. Exports have managed to survive the supply disruption from the ongoing Ukraine war, high interest rate, high exchange rate, and soaring consumer prices.

But next year’s outlook is grim. The Korea International Trade Association (KITA) predicts that our exports will fall 4 percent from this year. Chip exports have been slumping. Monthly exports have been falling against a year-ago period since October. Trade deficit has been extended for eight straight months.

The job market is also turning slack. According to the Korea Development Institute and the Bank of Korea, the rise of payroll will stop under 100,000 next year, sharply below this year’s estimated addition of 800,000. The slackness in the labor market will cause a reduction in individual income and consumption to further deepen an economic slump.

The government and political circles must cooperate to rescue the economy from challenges at home and abroad. The National Assembly must hasten to pass bills that can stimulate investment and consumption. A special act aimed at promoting the chip industry should be passed with highest priority. There must not be any rivalry among political parties over the urgent task of bolstering the struggling economy. Nothing should come above helping the economy.
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