The Central Labor Relations Committee (CLRC) concluded on Wednesday that contractors should respond directly to collective bargaining of subcontractors. It ruled in favor of a national parcel delivery worker union, which made requisition of relief against CJ Korea Express on the unfair labor practice of refusing attempts for collective bargaining. The defendant is currently on contract with individual agencies or its subcontractors. With this ruling, parcel delivery men on contract with these agencies may gain the right to make requests to CJ Korea Express for better working conditions. If workers are allowed to have collective bargaining talks to a contractor with which they do not have any contractual relationship, not only parcel couriers but also other industries can face confusion.
The decision reversed a judgement made earlier by the Seoul National Labor Relations Commission (SNLRC), which amounts to the first trial. The SNLRC dismissed a request of the delivery worker union last November on the grounds that CJ Korea Express is not a user of delivery men's labor, citing a judicial precedent that the relationship between the requestor of collective bargaining and the user may not be extended to a third party, which does not have any contractual relationship. However, the CLRC judged that CJ Korea Express has direct impact on the working conditions of parcel delivery men although they are not bound contractually, which makes the right to collective bargaining effective.
The problem is that it is vague to decide how much a contractor affects its subcontractor workers’ working conditions in order that it can be considered to be held accountable for collective bargaining. The CLRC mentioned "structural control or influence,” which creates a gray area as well. Accordingly, it will be highly likely that requests for collective bargaining to contractors may increase across various industries including express delivery, door-to-door sales, shipbuilding and automobile industries.
The ruling will affect how the Serious Accidents Punishment Act applies, according to which contractors may get punished in the event that they are responsible for practical-level operations when subcontractor workers get involved in serious accidents. Based on the CLRC's decision, leadership of contractors may not avoid punishment. If it is the case, subcontractors may be relegated to a mere human resourcing proxy while losing their role as a business owner.
Subcontract is a result of contractual relationships forged out of free will of the involved. It is not the right way to go to break a legitimate contractual relationship and hold contractors severely accountable just because they are larger than the rest in the contractual chain in terms of size and scale. What's more, vague and unclear grounds such as "influence” of contractors are not supposed to be the basis for determining with whom collective bargaining proceeds because it will only stir labor-management conflict and confusion across industries. In response, CJ Korea Express has signaled a lawsuit. No matter what is decided in the courtroom, it is important to provide a clear set of standards.