[ed] No time for strike

After a lengthy vote, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) decided Monday to go on a general strike on April 24. The more militant of the nation’s two labor umbrella groups, with some 670,000 members, said that about 85 percent of its members who participated in the vote supported the walkout.

Before reaching the decision to strike, the labor group called for stopping the overhaul of the labor market and civil servants pension system, as well as raising the minimum hourly wage to 10,000 won. The Korea Employers Federation, which aocates the interest of employers, branded the walkout illegal, saying those requests can’t be legitimate reasons for collective action.

The strike threat is hardly surprising, given that the labor unions’ “spring struggle” has become an annual event in Korea What’s disturbing is that the Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU), the largest umbrella group that broke down the tripartite labor talks among unions, management and the government last week, might join the strike. Moreover, unionized government officials and teachers are likely to do so to protest the government’s move to reform their pensions.

No one can blame union members for striking if they follow due procedures. But the upcoming walkout appears to be illegal, considering that all proposed issues have nothing to do with improving working conditions. Moreover, the unions haven’t undergone a mediation process.

Aside from such legal problems, it’s questionable if the unions’ demands to stop all structural reforms have a point.

First and foremost, labor market reform is critical and imminent, especially given the plight of young job-seekers arising from our labor market’s dual structure ?the huge gap between full-time regular workers and non-regular employees. Spending trillions of won annually to make up for the deficit in the civil servant pension scheme is like filling a bottomless vessel. One also cannot help but wonder if the KCTU’s demand to nearly double the minimum wage is realistic.

All this prompts the public to accuse the labor group of going on a “political strike” merely to protect the interests of its members, who are mostly full-time regular workers of large companies.

What’s clear is that the KCTU’s cited reasons for striking can be settled through dialogue and compromise at the trilateral labor talks. The minimum wage issue also needs intensive debate at the Minimum Wage Committee.

The Korean economy is showing feeble signs of recovery, but exports are still stagnant and growth forecasts have been revised downward. The KCTU ought to withdraw its strike plan immediately and return to the negotiating table. The FKTU, for its part, also should come back to the tripartite labor panel.

SOURCE: The Korea Times

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