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Labor groups in Korea, Japan come together on exports

July 13,2019
One of Korea’s major umbrella union groups made a joint statement with the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo) expressing concern about Tokyo’s restrictions on exports of key industrial materials to Korea.

The Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU) published a joint statement with Rengo on Friday after a lengthy meeting a day earlier.

The joint statement urged the Korean and Japanese governments to cooperate to resolve the trade row.

“The FKTU and Rengo express concern about the negative impact on the economies of Korea and Japan and to workers resulting from the trade conflict between the two countries,” read the statement. “The two governments must actively work toward a resolution through honest discussions based on trust.

“The two unions request a watchful eye on the impact on industries and employment in both countries,” it continued, “and also provide appropriate responsive measures if needed.”

The statement included an expression of solidarity between the two organizations.

“The FKTU and Rengo stand together in believing the trade dispute between Korea and Japan should not threaten the economic development of both countries or workers’ livelihoods, and will work together to ensure it.”

The Friday announcement came after FKTU President Kim Ju-young made an urgent visit to Japan to meet with Rengo officials on Thursday. The meeting came at the request of the FKTU.

Rengo reportedly delivered Friday’s joint statement to Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and its Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. FKTU President Kim said he plans to send the statement to the Korean government.

“If there is no action for a resolution despite [our] cooperation with Rengo […] we plan to bring [the issue] to the attention of international labor organizations,” said Kim.

The statement adds a new dimension to the trade dispute as the labor organizations take an active approach and threaten to make it an international issue.

According to Kim, the FKTU started analyzing the potential impact of Japan’s trade restrictions on its members after the Japanese government announced them on July 1.

After seeing the analysis, Kim requested an emergency meeting with Rengo on July 5. Kim said that Rengo was cautious about the meeting as public opinion approved the restrictions on Korea in Japan and due to the political nature of the issue, considering upper house legislative elections in Japan later this month.

The two organizations decided to meet nevertheless, due to Kim’s multiple requests.

Kim headed to Japan on Thursday after Rengo accepted the request and held talks at Rengo’s headquarters in Tokyo.

The JoongAng Ilbo spoke with the FKTU President.



Q. What motivated you to meet with Rengo?

A. After hearing the news on July 1, I was worried about the impact on [Korea’s] labor sector. It is an economic issue, although at the same time it is also a diplomatic one, so it was a complex and delicate situation. But if this problem remains unresolved, it would lead to losses for workers. That is what motivated me to urgently request a meeting on Friday [July 5].



What was Rengo’s response?

Rengo was very cautious. Within Japan, there is a significant amount of public opinion that approves of the trade restrictions on Korea. There are also the upper house elections, so it is a sensitive issue in a political sense. Rengo is wary of meddling in politics. So it was uncertain whether the meeting would take place. We sent numerous requests for cooperation. And unexpectedly, they agreed to hold the meeting.



What do you think is the reason behind Rengo agreeing to the talks?

Considering everything discussed, ultimately, there was agreement that workers from both countries could be losers. I believe that the FKTU and Rengo’s close relationship was also considered.



It is impressive that the labor sector is getting involved in a trade dispute. However, the agreement in the joint statement seems to be rudimentary.

You could see it that way. But considering Rengo’s cautious stance, it is groundbreaking. It has significance in the current conflict between the two countries.



What will Rengo do with the joint statement?

It will send it to Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and its Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare and call for a resolution. Considering Rengo’s actions to make an international agreement, we believe that affiliated organizations will take measures following Rengo.



What are your future plans?

If there is no action for a resolution despite [our] cooperation with Rengo and the trade dispute grows, we plan to bring [the issue] to the attention of international labor organizations. We plan to cooperate with the International Trade Union Confederation.

BY KIM KI-CHAN [chae.yunhwan@joongang.co.kr]