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Pushing back too hard (KOR)

Oct 09,2018
The government has irked shopkeepers by conducting an investigation on groups under the Korean Federation of Micro Enterprises after it vowed collective action against the government’s minimum wage hikes, including a threat to not implement next year’s state-set wage rate.

The Ministry of SMEs and Startups sent out requests to the National Police Agency, the Ministry of Strategy and Finance and other government offices as well as local governments on May 31, asking them to probe the activities and members of 61 groups in the federation. The ministry claimed it was routine to check the eligibility of the membership to examine the legitimacy of the vote electing the chairman of the federation in February.

But that explanation is not convincing. After the same election three years ago, the ministry settled for documents it received from the federation. Even after 10 out of 32 member groups did not hand in documents on time, the ministry closed the case simply asking the federation to take necessary action.

This time, however, the ministry went over the head of the federation and asked 16 government offices to probe member entities. It is rare for so many government offices to be mobilized to simply investigate the membership eligibility of an association of shopkeepers.

Even if the ministry’s claim that the investigation was run-of-the-mill is true, its action invites suspicion of political motivation due to the timing. The probe was launched after the federation protested in front of the National Assembly in April the steep minimum wage increases that have hurt their members. The government’s investigation followed the members’ rally on May 14 in Seoul.

The government is deluded if it thinks it can muffle criticism on its minimum wage policy by such heavy handed means. If the government is working for the people, as it claims, it must pay heed to their desperate cries instead of trying to silence them.

JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 9, Page 26