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Leading the economy astray

Apr 20,2018
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KIM KI-CHAN

The author is a senior writer on employment and labor at the JoongAng Ilbo.

The Korean Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission and the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy have put a brake on a Samsung Electronics work environment report from going public. The Central Administrative Appeals Commission of the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission accepted Samsung Electronics’ request to suspend the execution of public release, and the Industrial Technology Protection Committee of the Trade Ministry classified the report as “core national technology.” The Ministry of Labor and Employment was the only one pushing for the release of the report.

Consultation among agencies is necessary for sensitive issues, as different ministries handle overlapping cases. Economy and technology-related issues are complicated and cannot be judged by a single ministry. If the Ministry of Labor had consulted the Ministry of Trade in advance, the confusion could have been avoided.

In fact, the controversy over the public release of the work environment report is nothing new. It started ten years ago in 2008. In 2009, then opposition lawmakers asked the semiconductor industry for industrial health risk assessment reports. Jeong Hyeon-ok, then the head of the industrial safety bureau of the Ministry of Labor, met with each lawmaker. He aggressively persuaded them that the report could be provided, but the lawmakers should take responsibility for the aftermath.

He argued that semiconductors are a key industry for Korea, and a technology leak should be prevented at the national level. Therefore, if the reports were provided to lawmakers and any information was leaked, the lawmakers would be held accountable, and immunity would not apply. The lawmakers did not pursue the issue.

In the shipbuilding industry, key parts in plants are covered when people from rival companies visit. The allocation of materials itself is proprietary information in shipbuilding. The Ministry of Labor and Employment advocates “field-oriented administration” and would not neglect the efforts in the field to protect technologies. Of course, the ministry followed the order of the Daejeon High Court on behalf of the workers. But the ministry did not wait for the Supreme Court ruling, much less consult other ministries. It pursued the release only to be humiliated.

It is doubtful whether the Ministry of Labor is fulfilling its duties. GM Korea’s union and management are in extreme confrontation, but it is hard to see the ministry serving the role of mediating labor-management relations.

Jobs cannot be created when an industry falls behind in global competition. There is a considerable risk that the Ministry of Labor’s misguided direction could lead the economy astray.