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Stop normalizing union behavior

May 02,2019
On Labor Day, the militant Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) declared a strike of one million workers to fight for ratification of core labor rights conventions of the International Labor Organization (ILO). The automobile union under the bigger umbrella of the Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU), as well as the Hyundai Motor union and credit card unions under the KCTU, will vote in May on whether to go on a general strike. The collective bargaining season for this year is off to a bumpy start.

The union has the duty to stand up for improving labor conditions for workers. Yet the union enters bargaining with unreasonable demands accompanied by a threat to go on strike if they are not met. Its demands, that the government ratify ILO conventions and nullify the plan to extend flextime, are overstretching. The government must consider the broader economic players and factors, but the KCTU warns it would immediately kick off a general strike if the legislature begins discussions on flextime changes.

Trade unions are entirely self-absorbed with little regard for the economy, which is doing its worst in a decade. The KCTU voluntarily boycotted the tripartite labor panel that discussed changes to flextime despite repeated pleas to participate from the president and others. How can it call itself a democratic organization when it refuses any form of dialogue and insists solely on its ways?

The union front has become blatant on wage demands as well. The FKTU last month sent out recommendations to its affiliated unions to demand an average 7.5-percent hike in salaries for permanent workers and 16.8 percent for irregular workers, citing reduced income as a result of the cutback in workweek to 52 hours from July last year. It completely ignored the hardship of employers from the deterioration in productivity and a surge in labor cost. The Hyundai Motor union even wants the management to hire 10,000 new workers, even though recruitment falls under the management’s jurisdiction. It is no wonder that business sentiment is worsening.

A union represents the socially-weak. It needs public support and sympathy if it wants to improve labor rights. Korea’s union groups tend to think muscle speaks louder than words. They have become bolder under the pro-labor Moon Jae-in administration. The government has been condoning violence and raids by unions. The unions of umbrella trade groups belong to large companies and enjoy generous salaries and work security. Without normalizing abnormalities in labor practices, the country’s economy has no future.

JoongAng Ilbo, April 30, Page 34