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[News in focus] Bank unions could go on strike

Labor, management can’t see eye to eye on almost anything
July 12,2018
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After bank unions and management failed to a reach a consensus on several controversial issues this week, including the new 52-hour workweek and retirement ages, labor representatives on Wednesday said they were considering launching a strike.

After their third attempt to iron out their differences fell through on Tuesday, the Korean Financial Industry Union, an umbrella labor union for Korean banks, began talks on launching a strike Wednesday.

“We decided to hold a vote on Aug. 7 on whether we will launch a strike,” said Sung Nak-jo, vice president of the Korean Financial Industry Union. “If no major agreement is made, we will go on strike in September,” he said.

One of the most polarizing issues at stake is how banks will deal with the government’s push to limit their maximum workweek to 52 hours.

The labor union said that the rule should be applied to almost all positions, while the Korea Financial Industry Employers Association, a group representing local banks’ management, proposed limiting the new workweek rule to certain posts.

“Realistically, it is hard to accept the system for all positions at banks,” said a spokesperson at the Korea Financial Industry Employers Association. “There are some positions that require monitoring around the clock.”

The union group, however, disagreed, saying that the new rule can be implemented if the banks hire more workers. The two parties initially attempted to adopt the initiative one year earlier than the scheduled timeline for other industries.

But negotiations broke down, and most banks never adopted the rule early. Other issues that divide the two parties include lunch breaks for workers, pay increases and a salary peak system that would cut the paychecks of older employees.

The Korean Financial Industry Union proposed that all banks close between 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. to ensure all employees have an hour-long lunch break. Bank workers are often forced to cut their lunch hours short or take shifts so they can continue to serve clients, the union said.

Management said that it could ensure employees get an hour-long lunch break but refused to close branches during this time, citing inconvenience for clients. The union also demanded that banks delay the age that employees enter the salary-peak program, which offers lower wages for shorter working hours.

“We suggested the age be 57 or 58 instead of the current 55, given that other industries apply the program to those in their late 50s,” said Sung.

According to Sung, if the age that workers have their salaries cut is increased, the retirement age should also be pushed up from 60 to 63. The employers’ association rejected the proposal.

The union also called for a 4.7 percent increase in annual wages, while management proposed a 1.7 percent increase.


BY PARK EUN-JEE [park.eunjee@joongang.co.kr]