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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Jan. 21)

All News 07:17 January 21, 2016

Doomed labor pact
: No other choice but to seek compromise again

The grand compromise among labor, business and the government on labor market reform has once again broken down. On Tuesday, the Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU) reaffirmed its decision to nullify the pact and declared its withdrawal from the tripartite labor talks.

Kim Dong-man, head of the nation's largest labor umbrella group, accused the government of breaching the deal by unilaterally attempting to implement guidelines on making it easier for companies to lay off workers and change employment rules.

Employment and Labor Minister Lee Ki-kweon reacted angrily, saying that drawing up administrative guidelines is at the government's sole discretion. Now it's likely that unions and the government will go their separate ways until the April 13 general election, casting a dark cloud over the prospect of overhauling the labor market in the near future.

The rupture of the labor agreement may have been anticipated. In fact, there was a cause for controversy when the deal was reached last September, as the stakeholders glossed over sensitive issues, such as making layoffs easier to carry out, in their blind pursuit of an agreement.

The lion's share of the blame must go to the government and the ruling party, which pushed for the legislation of five labor reform bills prematurely. The government also irked the labor group by disclosing its guidelines on layoffs and employment rules late last year, although the FKTU repeatedly threatened a do-or-die struggle.

Even Tripartite Commission Chairman Kim Dae-hwan lashed out at the government's inept response, noting that some officials made blunders in the course of shaping the labor pact.

Labor circles are no less responsible for the bungled drive to reform the labor market. The government had proposed talks on the guidelines more than 20 times since December, but the FKTU turned down all these requests. This fact raises doubts about whether the labor group had the resolve to join in the government-led labor market innovation.

Right before declaring the deal null and void Tuesday, the FKTU indicated that it could resume dialogue on the assumption that the talks will continue indefinitely. But this proposal is also seen as a shallow trick to derail the much touted labor reform.

What is clear is that it's all but impossible to beef up our corporate competitiveness and create jobs at the current level of labor market efficiency. It's sad that the bungled labor deal would impose harm most severely on non-regular workers and young people.

What might follow after the rupture of the pact is easily imaginable. The government will start working out the labor reform on its own, while labor circles will start an all-out drive to protest the contentious bills and push rejection campaigns against ruling party candidates in the upcoming elections.

The backlash might be disastrous if all these fiascos come with another round of economic crises in the wake of America's interest rate hike.

What is clear is that the government and the unions have no other choice but to look for a compromise again. The game is not about all or nothing. They need to be wise enough to begin with something small and easy.

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