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Don’t be swayed by unions

May 25,2018
The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) has splashed cold water on a legislative effort to address the repercussions of the increase in the minimum wage. The National Assembly’s Environment and Labor Committee, which is working on a bill to expand the scope of the minimum wage, was interrupted by the KCTU, which staged protest rallies and vowed to campaign in the June local elections against lawmakers who vote for the bill.

The ruling Democratic Party’s floor leader Hong Young-pyo, who used to represent the trade union of Daewoo Group, scorned the KCTU’s selfishness and stubbornness after meeting its Vice Chair Kim Kyung-ja. “Aren’t the members of KCTU paid well?” he said. “It is the National Assembly’s duty to look out for the rest of the working population.” Hong pointed out that the two umbrella trade unions, including KCTU, represent only two million out of 19 million Korean workers.

The National Assembly is tilting towards including regular bonuses as part of the minimum wage, although the pro-labor Justice Party is protesting it. The question is whether to count benefits, such as lodging and transportation, as part of the minimum wage. The pace of wage hikes could impact employers differently when various benefits are included as part of basic wages. The KCTU threatened to bolt out of the tripartite committee of the government, employers and unions if the scope of the basic wage is stretched. The KCTU has been holding back any changes on the labor front after it walked out of the tripartite committee in 1999. It joined the committee only after the liberal government took power.

The KCTU demands that the minimum wage issue be referred back to the independent Minimum Wage Commission, which did not make a decision back in March. The legislature must put its foot down. It must come up with a solution.

The Minimum Wage Commission could not come to an agreement because its members are mostly pro-union. Finance Minister Kim Dong-yeon also advised “flexibility” in setting annual targets for minimum wage hikes by taking into account the difficulties faced by the market and employers. The minimum wage policy must not be swayed by powerful unions.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 24, Page 30