Go to Contents Go to Navigation

(Yonhap Editorial) Solving labor issues before taking office

All Headlines 15:30 February 07, 2013

SEOUL, Feb. 7 (Yonhap) -- A situation at Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction (HHIC) has resurfaced as a major labor issue. Unionists are threatening to start a strike this week unless President-elect Park Geun-hye and her transition team show their resolve to settle the strife at Hanjin and other major labor issues.

The situation at Hanjin, which seemed to be quieting down after 92 dismissed workers were reinstated last November, exploded when the management filed for 15.8 billion won (US$14.5 million) in compensation for the losses incurred during the 11-month-long strike by Hanjin's unionized workers. Some reports say the management had promised not to seek compensation when it struck an agreement with the union.

A worker, Choi Kang-seo, committed suicide in December, and the union says he killed himself to protest the management's behavior. Hanjin workers have taken Choi's coffin inside the shipyard where they are on strike to demand the company repeal the compensation suit.

The management said it was willing to negotiate, a welcome sign of hope. But any negotiations require mutual trust. Since the management has the upper hand, it is the management that needs to take the big step. The management should not be wily, and the unionists should be open-minded.

It was very timely that Park's transition team met with the leaders of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), an umbrella union, when the Hanjin confrontation is locked in a stalemate. It is said to be the first time ever that a transition team sat down with the KCTU, considered the more militant of the two umbrella unions. This makes the meeting meaningful in itself. Nevertheless, a question remains whether the transition team will be able to draw out the grand compromise before the new administration takes office later this month.

Insiders say both sides agreed the Hanjin situation is a top labor issue. Park's team reportedly emphasized that the president-elect stands with the laborers, the weaker force in our society. It is everyone's wish to see the management and the union reconcile, and find ways to co-exist. The union would naturally demand and push for quick solutions. However, if quick solutions are impossible, then everyone must accept the fact that they need to take time to solve the problems and act accordingly. One principle to remember, no matter what, is that there has to be mutual trust.

Hanjin's management could argue that there is nothing illegal about seeking compensation from the strike. But if it indeed had agreed not to seek compensation, then it should stand by its promise. After all, another strike over the compensation suit is only going to increase company losses.

Hanjin's shares were gaining last month upon hopeful news that the company had a high chance of winning a shipbuilding contract worth $1 billion. Normalization of Hanjin will not only revive the company but the local economy as well. This is why everyone must think wisely to end the standoff as soon as possible.

Send Feedback
How can we improve?
Thanks for your feedback!