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(EDITORIAL from Korea Herald on June 24)

All News 09:33 June 24, 2017

War on vested interests
Sharing benefits is the place to start for labor reform

The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions called for a general strike on June 30.

Tens of thousands of its members are expected to join the strike nationwide.

It says the major goals of the strike are raising the minimum wage, converting irregular workers into regular staff and securing complete freedom of union activity.

KCTU President Han Sang-gyun said in a letter he wrote from prison, “Ch"ebol, authorities and vested interest groups have been cornered. Now it is the right time to push ahead with labor reforms as fast as Genghis Khan won battles."

He is serving his time after being found guilty in the Supreme Court for leading a violent demonstration whose participants smashed police cars and wounded police officers in 2015.

"What the strike demands is that the Moon Jae-in administration should take measures without minding the establishment."

It is absurd indeed for the confederation to call for a fight against vested interest groups, as its leaders are among them. Its key members are unions of highly paid regular workers at large companies.

If workers in the top salary brackets do not belong in the category of vested interest groups, who does?

The confederation played a leading role in the candlelight rallies regarded as the driving force behind the launch of the new government.

Its call for a general strike is in effect a bill sent to the Moon administration for these services. The KCTU apparently wants rewards for its contribution to installing the Moon regime.

The current plight facing irregular workers is largely attributable to the selfishness of regular workers under the confederation who cling to their interests.

Regular staff workers of large companies are paid about twice as much as those of small- and medium-sized companies. The former also enjoy welfare benefits the latter can only dream of.

At some large manufacturers, collective agreements call for companies to give the children of retired blue collar workers extra points in employment exams when they apply for jobs in the companies.

In late April, the union of Kia Motors voted to revoke the membership of irregular workers. It decided to become a union consisting only of regular workers. They did not want to share benefits with irregular workers.

If these are not vested interests or an "evil to eliminate" as the confederation argues, then what is?

The Federation of Korean Trade Unions, one of the nation's two umbrella organizations of labor unions with the confederation, is raising its voice, too.

In the first meeting of the Job Committee on Tuesday, Kim Ju-young, president of the federation, said, "We were the driving force behind President Moon's election win. But I doubt the committee regards us as its true partner."

His remark sounds like a pressure on the new government to try to meet its demands.

The Moon administration is pushing labor-friendly policies no conservative governments dared to propose. Most of their demands are already reflected in his campaign pledges.

Moon, chairman of the committee, said to labor representatives in the meeting, "Please watch the government for a year." It was a call for the union groups not to rush into action.

The employment and labor minister has not been appointed yet.

There is little justification to call a general strike at this point in time.

The KCTU argues the strike will give a "strong impetus to labor reform." But many labor experts regard it as a strategy to seize the initiative in upcoming negotiations over labor issues.

The general strike will be the first acid test of the Moon administration’s ability to manage labor and social conflicts.

In this kind of situation, the government should not be swayed by one side. It should take control of the situation.

With its eyes on a big picture involving laborers, employers and the public, it should deal sternly with excessive demands and violent behavior which can cause chaos.

Labor problems cannot be solved only by listening to the labor union groups. Making concessions on vested interests is the place to start for labor reform.

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