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(EDITORIAL from Korea JoongAng Daily on Feb. 7)

All News 07:04 February 07, 2020

Union selfishness

After the spread of the new coronavirus from Wuhan, China, the public is getting more anxious than ever. Our economy faces an emergency due to a lack of supplies from China. In such a grim situation, the two major umbrella unions — the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) and the Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU) — are threatening to file an administrative suit to block the government from expanding the scope of exceptions to the newly enforced 52-hour workweek.

The two umbrella unions are taking action after the Ministry of Labor applied for eased work-hour regulations for face mask producers after the virus broke out in Korea last month. The unions said the government's measure could be used as an excuse for extending work hours in other industries.

Such a reaction from the two umbrella unions constitutes a classic case of selfishness. The government can't be faulted for easing such regulations to help protect public safety in an emergency like this. Don't the unions care for public health and our economy?

The unions said they do not oppose increased production of face masks. They also said they don't object to extended work hours if the country faces a national crisis. If this is not a national crisis, what is? Is it acceptable that our quarantine offices and hospitals across the country cannot work due to the 52-hour work regulation? The umbrella unions appear to have no sense of compassion at all. We are dumbfounded at their egotism.

The Moon Jae-in administration should be held accountable for their excessive reaction. The government has been pushing labor policies on behalf of unions since its launch in May 2017. It defied mainstream economics by pressing ahead with a 52-hour workweek and hikes in the minimum wage regardless of their ramifications. Thanks to such labor-friendly policies, the militant KCTU became a union group larger than the FKTU, which also has become more aggressive than before.

Side effects of the application of the 52-hour workweek were expected. Yet the government dragged its feet in addressing them. Last year, it submitted a bill to make the regulation more flexible. But that bill is to be repealed in the face of opposition from unions and partisan battles between ruling and opposition parties. The Labor Ministry has attempted to fix the problem through a revision of implementation ordinances rather than legislation, but was met by vehement opposition from unions.

The Moon administration should ponder its labor policies. The two umbrella unions must accept the needs of the nation. They must consider how the public views their selfish battles — as a nation battles an epidemic.

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