Labor Reform Aimed at Forging Productive Industrial Relations

Korea Times (Seoul, Korea), March 12, 2001 | Go to article overview

Labor Reform Aimed at Forging Productive Industrial Relations


It has been three years now since reforms in the corporate, finance, labor and public sector were launched with the inauguration of the current government in February 1998.

The reform drive originated from the rationale that the economic crisis at the end of 1997 was caused by structural problems in all sectors of society.

In the case of labor, confrontational industrial relations and the egoism with which people only sought their own interests slowed down the economy.

The rigidity of the labor market blocked efficient distribution of human resources. A non-productive labor culture and the subsequent social costs also contributed to the outbreak of the crisis either directly or indirectly.

The aim of the labor sector reform is pretty simple. It is to develop productive industrial relations based on participation and cooperation.

It is to maintain flexibility in the labor market in order to strengthen firms' competitiveness and to fairly share the fruits between workers and employers. Ultimately, it is to enhance the workers quality of life.

There are some opinions that the labor sector reform still has a long way to go. I am ready to accept any legitimate criticism but in many cases, they come from one-sided views of either workers or employers.

For instance, workers regard mass layoffs following corporate restructuring as "a change for the worse" while employers insist that the measures are critical for labor market flexibility.

In this kind of situation, the role of the government to find a "magic solution" that can satisfy both at the same time is not as easy as it looks.

It has become simply impossible to plow through the new wave of information revolution and unlimited competition as long as both workers and employers strive to give birth to new labor-management culture.

In order to establish a labor-management culture based on participation and cooperation, building a trust between workers and employers will be a prerequisite and dialogue between them should mature.

The government has made many efforts to derive a tripartite dialogue. The dialogue initiated from the economic crisis of 1997 and social partners for the first time in our history resulted in a tripartite agreement in February 1998 in order to overcome the difficulties.

This agreement, which spans over a total of 90 tasks to cover issues such as structural reform, unemployment measures, a social safety net and basic labor rights, has played a role in towing this country away from its terrible accident.

With a view to building a solid channel for dialogue, the government turned the Tripartite Commission into a permanent body and continued the dialogue.

Particular emphasis was placed on the improvement of basic labor rights. Teachers' unions and the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions have been legalized and are now able to contribute to the development of labor movements as responsible entities.

Various regulations regarding political activities of trade unions have been lifted and workplace associations for public officials have been allowed.

The Tripartite Commission went on to reach another agreement in September 1999 to secure effectiveness of collective agreements and reduce weekly working hours from 44 to 40. The agreement also covered matters related with payments to full-time union officials and multiple trade unions.

Both workers and employers have shown particular difference in their views on issues regarding prohibition of payments to full-time union officials and multiple unions at enterprise level.

It was agreed on February 9, 2001 to delay implementation of the measure for five years. Both workers and employers preferred to minimize the impact these systems will have on the industry and the national economy through sufficient preparation.

The government, respecting their views, proceeded with necessary legislation. …

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