(LEAD) Negotiations kick off to set next year's minimum wage amid pandemic
(ATTN: UPDATES with changes in headline, paras 1-2, 8-9, 11)
SEOUL, June 11 (Yonhap) -- A national commission launched negotiations Thursday to decide the legal minimum wage for next year amid the continuing economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.
The Minimum Wage Commission hosted a plenary meeting in Sejong, an administrative city south of Seoul, setting out to determine the yearly revised minimum wage for 2021.
The minimum wage for 2020 stands at 8,590 won (US$7.22) per hour, up 2.9 percent from last year.
President Moon Jae-in had vowed in his campaign pledge to hike the minimum wage up to 10,000 won by mid-2020, but he apologized last year after the 2020 minimum wage was set at the 8,000-won level.
This year's negotiations, which bring together representatives from the business and labor sides, as well as the government, is expected to be unusually turbulent due to the ongoing economic difficulties stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The business side considers it difficult to raise the minimum wage further, as the pandemic-driven economic crisis has eaten into companies' financial power to pay wages to employees.
The labor side, however, is adamant that a certain level of hike is necessary when households in the lower income bracket have been hit hard by the economic fallout from the pandemic.
"Combining wisdom and efforts by all the parties that have interest in setting the minimum wage has never been more important," commission Chairman Park Joon-shik said at the opening of the meeting.
He said the country is in "uncharted terrain" due to the pandemic.
The 27-member commission is made up of nine representatives from each of the three sides -- employees, employers and those who represent social interests.
Four of the labor side members, however, boycotted the meeting in protest against the commission's "unilateral" decision to open the session, a sign that participants in this year's talks may require more time to come to an agreement.
The legal deadline for setting the 2021 minimum wage is the end of June, but the negotiations are highly likely to continue into next month.
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