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Gov’t will ratify 3 labor conventions by ILO

May 23,2019
The government said it will ratify three fundamental International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions.

The conventions the government plans to ratify are the freedom of association and protection of the right to organization; the right to organize and collectively bargain; and the forced labor convention.

However, the government is postponing the ratification of the abolition of forced labor.

Despite joining the ILO in 1991, Korea deferred four of the organization’s eight fundamental labor conventions, and the European Union (EU) has pressured it to adopt the labor standards as part of its free trade agreement.

However, these are sensitive issues that could have major impact on Korean industries and there may be blowback in the National Assembly.

“The government will be pushing for the ratification of three out of four agreements [with the ILO],” said Lee Jae-kap, minister of employment and labor, on Wednesday. “We plan to submit the ratification of the agreement to the National Assembly after getting the agreement of labor and businesses with the cooperation of related government departments.”

Lee said the government decided not to include the abolition of forced labor until there is a more thorough review of Korea’s own laws on the issue.

“We plan to also make improvements to regulations including legislative reforms demanded by the ratification of the conventions,” Lee said.

EU has been increasing pressure on the Korean government to ratify the conventions and the conflict had the potential to limit Korean businesses’ expansion into European markets.

But those conventions could have major implications for Korea’s labor market.

The convention on the freedom of association and protection of the right to organize as well as the right to collectively bargain would allow public servants, people that were fired from their jobs and even the unemployed to form their own labor unions, which under current laws is prohibited.

Ratifying the conventions could also limit the government’s power to deal with strikes at basic national facilities like railroads, the air transportation system, hospitals and gas and electricity utilities.

Under the current system, when workers at such essential facilities go on strike, the government can replace 50 percent of the workers that are on strike with outside workers to keep those facilities operating.

If the ILO conventions are ratified, any action by the government to reduce the impact of such strikes could be considered violations.

Also under the forced labor convention, people who fulfill their mandatory military duties by working in government offices or research facilities would have to join the Korean military as those other jobs would be considered forced labor.

The ratification of the four ILO conventions was discussed since last July by the presidential Economic, Social and Labor Council, which failed to forge a compromise between labor and businesses.

Labor unions have demanded all four conventions be ratified. Companies, on the other hand, argue that measures adopted in other advanced economies that keep excessive power from being exercised by unions should be adopted in Korea in exchange for adopting the ILO conventions.

The business community maintains the government must allow companies to hire replacement workers when its own employees go on strike. It also wants to abolish penalties imposed on businesses for unfair labor practices.

While most demands from the business community were not accepted, council members representing the public interest advised the government to expand unions’ collective bargaining agreements with companies from two to three years.

BY KIM KI-CHAN, LEE HO-JEONG [lee.hojeong@joongang.co.kr]