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(LEAD) Opposition parties directly present 'yellow envelope bill' to plenary session

National 16:14 May 24, 2023

(ATTN: UPDATES with more info in last 4 paras)
By Kim Han-joo

SEOUL, May 24 (Yonhap) -- The opposition-controlled parliamentary labor committee presented a contentious pro-labor bill directly to a plenary session Wednesday, despite strong protests from the ruling party and businesses.

The main opposition Democratic Party (DP) and the minor opposition Justice Party passed a motion to refer the revision of the Trade Union and Labor Relations Adjustment Act, which strictly restricts filing damage suits against striking workers, directly to the plenary session for a vote.

The two opposition parties, holding a majority in the labor committee, approved the motion in a 10-0 vote after all six members of the ruling People Power Party (PPP) walked out of the meeting en masse in protest.

By law, a parliamentary committee can send a bill directly to a plenary session for final approval with three-fifths support from its members if the judiciary committee takes no action for more than 60 days after taking over the bill.

The new labor bill passed through the labor committee in February, but it has since been pending in the judiciary committee chaired by the ruling party for nearly 90 days.

The revision guarantees the bargaining rights of indirectly employed workers and prohibits litigation for damages and provisional seizures against unionized workers with the aim of suppressing their strikes. This could make it difficult for employers to file complaints against illegal strikes by their workers and exempt laborers from liability for participating in illegal strikes.

The controversial bill dates back to 2009, when unionized workers of carmaker SsangYong Motor Co. staged a high-profile strike to oppose a massive layoff. Five years later, the Supreme Court declared the strike illegal and ordered the workers to pay 4.7 billion won (US$3.6 million) in compensation to the company and the state.

A number of civic activists and citizens have since delivered yellow envelopes, each containing 47,000 won in donations, to support the SsangYong workers, raising the need to amend the trade union law in favor of striking workers. The revision has since been nicknamed the "yellow envelope bill."

Even if the bill is finally approved by the plenary session, President Yoon Suk Yeol can exercise his veto power. Yoon previously rejected two opposition-led bills -- a nursing act aimed at stipulating the roles and responsibilities of nurses and a revision to the Grain Management Act, which required the government's purchase of surplus rice.

The PPP and business lobbies have opposed the pro-labor bill, saying it gives excessive immunity to unionized workers and will only promote illegal strikes, as well as ruin labor-management relations and the national economy.

"They should learn to wait and let the judiciary committee have sufficient discussions," said Rep. Lim Lee-ja of the PPP, a labor committee member, calling the opposition bloc a "mugger" for railroading the bill with majority power.

The PPP further criticized the revision as "anti-constitutional," citing its restriction on compensation even in cases where losses occur due to unlawful actions by labor unions.

Meanwhile, the opposition bloc and the labor community welcomed the decision, urging the swift passage of the revision during the plenary session.

Rep. Yun Kun-young of the DP said that it is the committee's responsibility to refer the bill and emphasized that the PPP has delayed the process despite numerous debates and public hearings on the issue.

The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, a militant labor umbrella group, expressed optimism that the revision would create an opportunity for the guarantee of labor rights.

Members of the parliamentary labor committee hold a meeting at the National Assembly on May 24, 2023. (Yonhap)

Members of the parliamentary labor committee hold a meeting at the National Assembly on May 24, 2023. (Yonhap)


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