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Gov’t repeals controversial labor regulations

Sept 26,2017
The Moon Jae-in government on Monday nullified two labor regulations enacted by its predecessor that enabled employers to fire low-performing workers and revise working conditions without majority consent, a 180 degree turnaround from former President Park Geun-hye’s labor policy.

Employment and Labor Minister Kim Young-joo declared an end to the two disputed polices that were introduced in the name of easing labor restrictions and setting up clear work evaluation systems.

Criticizing the former government’s rush to introduce the two labor regulations, Minister Kim said the two policy lines “failed to win public support because they were rushed out without social consent.”

“Above all, it has been a source of strife between management and labor as the regulations have been misused or exploited [by employers],” continued the minister, who proclaimed, “From today, the government abolished the two guidelines.”

One of the two guidelines introduced 18 months ago allowed companies to fire workers they deemed to be low-performing, a stark departure from previous labor regulations that allowed companies to make such a move in only two specific situations. Prior to the Park government’s labor guidelines announced January last year, companies could only sack employees when they breached laws, such as by accepting bribes or when layoffs were unquestionably necessary to keep the company from going bankrupt.

But with the former Park government’s labor regulations announced on Jan. 22 last year, which immediately drew a fierce backlash from workers, companies enjoyed leeway in personnel management, as they were able to dismiss employees that they considered to be underperforming. The government defined “low-performing workers” as those who continued to cause damage to management even after re-education lessons or work reassignment was offered.

The other guideline allowed companies to revise working conditions or wage systems that may negatively impact employees without acquiring the majority of the workers’ consent. Under the guideline, an employer could unilaterally revise working conditions when doing so was deemed socially acceptable, which also sparked strong protest from two umbrella labor unions.

“With the abolishment of the two labor guidelines, I hope for new momentum in resuming dialogue with labor and creating a society in which labor is respected,” said the minister during a ministry meeting at the Sejong Government Complex.

The former Park government’s move for a more flexible labor market last year prompted the Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU), to drop out of the Tripartite Commission of Labor, Management and Government in protest.

The FKTU welcomed the policy reversal on Monday, noting that former President Park’s two labor guidelines deepened workers’ anxiety over job safety and only enabled companies to push anti-labor programs unhindered. “Though it is a little belated, we welcome the official abolishment of the two guidelines,” said the umbrella labor union in a statement. The union is expected to announce its return to the trilateral meeting on Tuesday.

Discarding the policies was one of President Moon Jae-in’s campaign promises. He ran on a pro-labor platform that included transitioning temporary workers into permanent employees and raising the minimum wage.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]