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(LEAD) KCTU head offers to resign over breakdown of labor deal on COVID-19

National 16:04 July 24, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS more background in paras 4, 14; UPDATES with more details in paras 10-12)

SEOUL, July 24 (Yonhap) -- The head of South Korea's biggest trade union offered to resign Friday, holding himself responsible for the failure of a key labor agreement drawn up by the government and business and labor circles to deal with the economic fallout from the new coronavirus.

"As mentioned before, I still have some five months until my term ends, but I intend to resign to take responsibility," Kim Myung-hwan, chairman of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), announced at a press conference at the union's headquarters in central Seoul.

The announcement came a day after KCTU members voted to reject a tentative agreement between the government, business employers and the labor sector that centers on sustaining jobs and expanding the social safety net while easing financial burdens for companies.

The veto decision was reached Thursday after a 12-hour marathon meeting of some 1,500 KCTU representatives. A majority of voters, 805 out of 1,311, opposed the approval, according to the trade union. A total of 499 voted to approve the labor agreement, while seven counts were invalid.

Two other union executives, including Chief Vice Chairman Kim Kyung-ja, also offered to resign.

Kim Myung-hwan appeared disappointed at the union's rejection of the agreement Thursday, expressing his wish that the union stay connected and see eye-to-eye with the rest of the country and the people.

Kim Myung-hwan, chairman of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, speaks during a press conference at the union's headquarters in central Seoul on July 24, 2020. Kim offered to step down in response to the failure of a key labor agreement drawn up by the government and business and labor circles to deal with the economic fallout from the new coronavirus. (Yonhap)

"Due to my deficiencies, that appeal has not been met," said Kim.

Under the tentative agreement, the government had proposed to map out a universal employment insurance plan by year-end and provide financial support for companies that have temporarily suspended their businesses or asked employees to take leaves from work due to the fallout from the virus.

Businesses, meanwhile, had pledged to maintain employment, while the labor circle in turn said it planned to agree to cutting work hours and taking leaves for this goal.

Kim said he wanted the tentative deal to serve as an opportunity for the KCTU to push toward internal reform. At a recent delegate convention, the chairman has stated that partisanship within the union has hampered the institution's internal democracy.

The KCTU plans to convene a central executive committee meeting on Monday to form an emergency leadership committee. The committee will govern the KCTU until the scheduled election of a new leadership near the end of this year.

"While I step aside now, I will return to the field of labor and continue my efforts in realizing my goals as an average union member," Kim said.

Kim was among the first to propose talks between the government and business and labor circles. With Thursday's vote, the country's labor and business circles failed to reach a meaningful consensus on the first social agreement of its kind in 22 years.

The tentative agreement was the result of weekslong talks among six stakeholders -- the prime minister, the finance minister and the heads of the KCTU, Federation of Korea Trade Unions, Korea Employers Federation and Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry -- that kicked off in May.

A similar agreement was reached in 1998, when Asia's fourth-largest economy was going through the Asian financial crisis.

Kim Myung-hwan (3rd from L), chairman of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, speaks during at a press conference at the union's headquarters in central Seoul on July 24, 2020. Kim offered to step down in response to the failure of a key labor agreement drawn up by the government and business and labor circles to deal with the economic fallout from the new coronavirus. (Yonhap)

odissy@yna.co.kr
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