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A nonsensical proposal

June 22,2017
The metal workers umbrella union group Korea Confederation of Trade Unions proposed its biggest workplace unions, Hyundai Motor and Kia Motors, together launch a 500 billion won ($438 million) fund to improve working conditions at suppliers and in the irregular workforce and create more jobs. The offer has the appearance of generosity from the mainstream unions to narrow the gaps with their temporary counterparts. But looks can be deceiving.

The Metal Workers’ Union’s offer of 250 billion won is no more than a gesture. The money is what it hopes to get from 17 affiliates of Hyundai Motor in what it claims are overdue wages. Hyundai and Kia unions are involved in lawsuits with management, demanding an extra 40 million won per employee as the companies counted bonuses and various financial incentives as part of base salary. It would collect 3 million won from each employee eligible for the reimbursement to finance the new fund.

But the Hyundai Motor union lost two trials against management. The court ruled that the money did not meet the wage criteria of being regular, fixed and consistent. The suit by the Kia Motors union is still pending in the first trial. In short, there is no guarantee when or if it will get the money.

The umbrella union is suspected of coming up with the idea of a so-called fund to make more jobs to score points with the pro-labor administration of President Moon Jae-in whose top agenda is to boost hiring. It also hopes to turn the wind in favor of the union and press management to yield to its demands. It also could be aiming to improve its image of being hostile to the irregular workforce.

Cutting labor hours and placing the massive irregular workforce on the permanent payroll is crucial to improving labor conditions. The new administration has been demanding a compromise from the unions and employers. But the metal workers’ union is attempting to defend its vested interests through clever scheming. It cannot win public favor and trust from the weaker workforce with such an attitude.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 21, Page 30