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(EDITORIAL from Korea Herald on Jan. 25)

All News 07:14 January 25, 2016

Dismissal plans
Social consensus should precede hasty move

The government has unilaterally publicized its new labor standards on giving enterprises the authority to lay off underperforming workers, despite a recent breakdown of the tripartite dialogue also involving labor and management.

The guidelines provide employers with the authority to sack employees when their job performance is judged as poor. Among a batch of labor reform schemes, it is this core article that has received the toughest backlash from labor advocates over the past few months.

The guidelines released before a final agreement was reached has invited one of the nation’s two major labor advocate groups to stage an indefinite walkout in anger. The other is considering taking a legal countermeasure against the Ministry of Employment and Labor.

On the whole the policy direction appears to be positive when seen in terms of labor market flexibility.

The difficulties cited by businesses also have some merit. They say the burden of growing payroll costs arising from underperforming workers is undermining overall productivity.

However, when it comes to finer aspects of the guidelines, there is much scope for controversy.

For instance, top executives or division heads could grade their workers' performance in an arbitrary manner. A big issue is how each company maintains objectivity in its evaluation of workers.

A division head who has a grudge against a given worker may give him or her the lowest grade, irrespective of actual performance. The worker will unfairly face the risk of dismissal due to a lack of objectivity.

There is also a possibility that company owners will target senior workers to cut labor costs. Enterprises would no longer carry out voluntary redundancy programs, under which owners have to pay significant compensation to outgoing workers.

So critics say the guidelines are designed to make workers with a career of 20 years or so as the main scapegoats, irrespective of actual performance. This is the primary reason why the state scheme is questioned on its integrity.

In addition, practices of ostracism or bullying among colleagues may increase due to job insecurity. In a team-oriented corporate culture, a sole performer cannot but fall behind others.

If a company owner has stronger power with the rights of convenient dismissal, the entire staff, from newcomers to executives may be forced to act like faithful servants. Workplaces, thereby, may lose free horizontal discussions between employers and employees that help codevelopment.

On the contrary, the Labor Ministry claims that the guidelines do not enable enterprises to conduct easier layoffs -- as labor groups define -- but mandates intricate steps to practically dismiss poorly performing workers. But its explanation is not gaining any public credibility.

Furthermore, as ministry officials worry, the state-led guidelines are an administrative instruction to the corporate sector and are not legally binding.

When an ousted worker brings litigation against the company for unreasonable dismissal, the company would have to verify in court whether his or her performance was really subpar.

The government was impetuous. The ministry and the corporate sector should find ways to resolve the ambiguity and anticipated loopholes in the employment reform scheme by resuming the tripartite talks with the labor groups.

The government also should not gloss over the widespread backlash and public poll results that oppose the easy layoffs. Some netizens say that the underperforming government officials who formulated the guidelines need to be sacked first.

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