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Gov’t order on Paris Baguette stays, for now

Both parties brace for final court decision in labor showdown
Nov 30,2017
A Seoul court said late Tuesday night that it would not review a request from Paris Baguette to suspend a government order issued in September that would require it to directly hire thousands of workers employed by the bakery chain’s contractors.

Paris Baguette now has until Dec. 5 to directly hire about 5,300 bakers or face a fine of 10 million won ($9,300) per unhired worker. The Ministry of Employment and Labor may also press legal charges if Paris Baguette does not follow its order.

The Seoul Administrative Court said the ministry’s “corrective orders” were a form of administrative guidance that did not cause any form of “irreversible damage” to Paris Baguette, a major condition for a case to go forward in court.

The bakery chain, however, argued the government’s move was more than just guidance and amounted to a forced order because the Labor Ministry had warned of legal ramifications or fines if it was not followed.

The ministry, on the other hand, insists it was a form of guidance because it gave Paris Baguette time to follow it before imposing any penalties.

In September, the ministry told Paris Baguette to hire about 5,300 bakers who were working at the chain but actually employed by contractors. The ministry argued the system violated labor laws because the bakers were receiving direct orders from Paris Baguette instead of the contractors.

Paris Baguette released a statement Tuesday saying it would not “lodge an immediate complaint” because “the ruling doesn’t force us to proceed with the [ministry’s] corrective orders.”

The company is waiting for the court to rule on another petition filed last month to completely nullify the ministry’s order. That decision would ultimately decide whether Paris Baguette is obligated to hire the bakers.

The Seoul court has yet to decide on a date for that verdict.

Paris Baguette argues it is stuck between a rock and hard place because hiring the bakers and paying the penalty are untenable. Hiring them would double the company’s workforce, which it does not have the capacity to do, the company says, and if it pays the penalty, it would have to forfeit up to 53 billion won, equivalent to 80 percent of its operating profit last year.

Paris Baguette hopes it can possibly reduce the penalty by persuading bakers to voluntarily join a “Happy Partners” program that it plans to establish with contractors.

Under the program, bakers would have full-time jobs and improved benefits. About 60 percent of bakers have agreed to join. The rest are protesting it, saying it would not be much different from working under contractors.

The ministry has said it would not penalize the company for bakers who refuse to be directly hired by Paris Baguette, though it has not commented on whether the Happy Partners program would fall under that exception.

Although Paris Baguette said it would not appeal, 11 contractors said in a statement Wednesday that it would press the court to review the petition to suspend the order.


BY SONG KYOUNG-SON [song.kyoungson@joongang.co.kr]