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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on July 3)

All News 07:28 July 03, 2020

Setback to tripartite dialogue
: Progressive union should make compromise

A lack of compromise has dealt a setback to the dialogue between unions, management and government. It is regrettable that one of the country's two umbrella unions boycotted a tripartite agreement on how to cooperate in riding out the socioeconomic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

On Wednesday, the Economic, Social and Labor Council, a tripartite body, was supposed to host a signing ceremony for the agreement between Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun, two union leaders and business representatives. But the progressive Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) notified the council of its decision not to sign the accord just 15 minutes before the ceremony started.

It was reported that hardline KCTU members, who are against the agreement, blocked their leader, Kim Myeong-hwan, from leaving for the ceremony. They denounced the accord as a gimmick aimed at saving capitalists and businesses at the sacrifice of workers. But their view is out of touch with reality, given that both employers and employees have been hit hard by the unprecedented public health crisis.

The action by the radical members thwarted Kim's efforts to promote dialogue in the face of looming economic woes. They turned down his argument that the agreement is a win-win strategy for survival of both local enterprises and workers. They should have realized that the country might face a catastrophe unless unions and management collaborate in fighting COVID-19 and speeding up an economic recovery.

The episode indicated that the KCTU hardliners have won over moderate members. Yet it revealed an internal rift, while displaying problems with its decision-making process. Kim, who is considered to be a moderate, could face further challenges to his leadership. This may reduce the chances of reaching a grand social compromise between the three parties.

The KCTU has long been criticized for its militant stance. It withdrew from the tripartite committee in 1998 right after the panel's establishment aimed at tiding over the 1997 Asian financial crisis. Since then the umbrella union has taken an intransigent attitude toward employers and government. Now, however, the KCTU cannot solve pending issues through its struggle-oriented strategy alone. That is why its leader Kim offered to rejoin the three-way committee and push for the agreement.

The union must change itself, especially when the country is going through difficulties arising from the pandemic. In May, 392,000 workers lost their jobs. Exports declined by 10.9 percent in June, a double-digit fall for the third consecutive month. The economic prospects are getting gloomier. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) revised down its 2020 growth projection for Korea to a contraction of 2.1 percent from its earlier forecast of a 1.2 percent shrinkage.

The rupture of dialogue might deal a blow to the government's efforts to help businesses survive the crisis, maintain employment and expand the social safety net. We urge the KCTU to return to dialogue and make a compromise to solve the problem. Now is a time for cooperation for co-survival, not for militant struggles.

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