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Labored protests

July 01,2017
People forced to work on contract rather than on a salary with benefits formed a united front and in one voice demanded better job security and incomes as promised by President Moon Jae-in during the presidential campaign by joining a general strike hosted by the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU). Contract workers at schools and local governments called for conversion of their status to salaried workers within the next 100 days while temporary workers at universities, hospitals, cleaning service, and grocery stores called for a hike in the minimum hourly wage to 10,000 won ($8.74) from the current 6,470 won. Subcontract and construction workers demanded an end to illicit agency work and protection of their basic labor rights.

The new president has put a spotlight on the so-called irregular work force after he promised to get contract workers upgraded to salaried status when he visited Incheon International Airport Corp. soon after he was sworn in. The umbrella trade group gave contract workers a formal stage to vent their complaints. But angry outbursts and collective action on the street won’t help them or society as a whole. From Thursday, cafeteria workers at public schools across the country went on a two-day strike forcing parents to pack lunches for their kids. After over 15,000 cooks and assistants joined the walkout, schools had to ask children to come with their own lunches or could not hold classes after lunchtime.

The KCTU claimed it was hosting the strikes because now is the best time to do sweep away “past ills” and push forward with social reforms. But the militant union group is actually suspected of trying to restore its political influence in the liberal government’s affairs. Lee Yong-sup, vice chair of a presidential committee devoted to generating jobs, has called for restraint from union groups. The government won’t be helping the state administration or workers by encouraging wishful thinking through ambiguous assurances that the president is both “pro-labor and pro-enterprise.”

The government must make its stand clear to the labor sector as it did with the employers’ group. The KCTU, which advocates for the rights of workers already on staff at companies, should admit that conditions for contract workers won’t improve without some pain-sharing. Instead of thinking it has done its part by setting the stage for contract workers to vent their complaints, the union group should be first to yield some of its vested interests and help make conditions better for contract workers.

JoongAng Ilbo, July 1, Page 26