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A litmus test for Moon

Nov 22,2018
The proposal to expand flextime in workplaces has tested the pro-labor Moon Jae-in administration. The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) included opposition to the change in flextime in its main platforms for protest. The Federation of Korean Trade Unions held a rally last weekend at the National Assembly to protest the plan.

In a meeting with political party floor leaders, President Moon Jae-in reached a rare bipartisan agreement to expand flextime to lessen the side effects of reducing the workweek to 52 hours. The reduction in work hours is aimed at improving conditions for workers and creating more jobs. But the shift has added difficulties for companies. Small and mid-sized enterprises whose businesses hinge on seasons as well as the IT and R&D sector that cannot follow strict working hours are struggling to accommodate their work to the new work schedule. The government responded to the loud cries from industry sites and agreed to stretch flextime from the current maximum three months to six or 12.

Unions call the move a betrayal by the Moon administration. They claim that the extension of flextime will reduce incomes from overtime and lessen the effect of reduced work hours. Most developed economies — like the United States, Britain, Germany and Japan — allow flextime from six months to a year. The unions must not resist a move aimed at sustaining certain businesses.

The progressive front has joined the union’s protest as though the flextime extension indicated a governmental shift to the right. Both the government and the ruling party may be uncomfortable about irking its backbone supporters, but if they back out now, they cannot attempt any reform. The flextime proposal could be a litmus test on the government’s will to change or reform the labor sector.

The Blue House held a tripartite meeting with representatives from the government, management and labor as scheduled despite a boycott by the KCTU, which suggests it won’t be swayed by the hard-line union. But the Economic, Social, and Labor Council’s agenda raised some concerns: its subcommittee has recommended that the tripartite meeting discussed allowing public school teachers to form unions and the unionization of dismissed employees in order to comply with the mandates of the International Labor Organization (ILO).

During the campaign, Moon vowed to ratify the ILO agreement, but the application of the rules could send shocks across the industry.

JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 21, Page 34