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Labor Strikes to be Restricted at Large Companies

Posted September. 07, 2003 23:11,   


The scope of so called “public utilities,” in which labor disputes are forbidden, is to be drastically expanded.

“According to the reform plans on laws and regulations regarding the relation between labor and management, announced on September 4, objects of negotiations and disputes will be expanded and the arbitration-before-litigation rule will be renounced. This may give rise to more frequent labor strikes,” said a high-ranking official at the Labor Ministry. He also noted yesterday, “By expanding the scope of public utilities, the government aims to minimize potential inconveniences for the Korean public.”

The law regulating labor unions and arbitration in labor-management disputes stipulates that public utilities are those areas which are either closely related to the daily lives of the Korean people or influential to the national economy.

In particular, public utilities refer to those business operations in which a 15-day arbitration is required prior to any labor strike (while other operations are required to give a 10-day arbitration process). This includes include passenger transportation, water, electricity, gas and petroleum, public medical services, banking, and broadcasting and communications services, etc.

Yet the scope of public utilities will be sharply expanded soon.

The four government-affiliated agencies, in charge of the social safety net--the National Pension Corporation, the National Health Insurance Corporation (NHIC), the Employment Security Center, and the Korea Labor Welfare Corporation (WELCO)--along with such economically important conglomerates as Hyundai Motor Company, will be part of the public utility sector and therefore become subject to special arbitration at the Labor Relations Commission (LRC).

According to the reform measure, the LRC has the authority to conduct a special arbitration, and thereby providing a ruling on which side between labor and management has a rational argument.

A Labor Ministry‘s official said, “the government is considering various ways to curb the worker’s right to walkout by expanding the legal scope of public utilities.”

According to the government reform plan, public utilities should issue a notice at least seven days before it wages a walkout without an arbitration process. Besides, the company can hire replacements from outside regardless of the legality of the strikes.

Even in strikes, crucial public services, such as emergency care at hospitals, public transportation, as well as electricity, gas, and water should not be disrupted.

If workers in the backbone service sector attend strikes, the LRC can order the protestors to return to work. Violators of the order will be subject to criminal punishment.

The emergency arbitration authority, which has been compared to “the blunt sword” for its dormant implementation, will take a more proactive role in labor disputes.

As a response, the Korean Federation of Trade Unions (KFTU) issued a statement yesterday, in which it claimed, “The government has decided to start with the public sector, aiming at crossing out workers‘ right to strike.” The KFTU also said, “If the government further tries to deteriorate the laws and regulations related to labor-management, we will have to go on an all-out war against the government.”

Kyung-Joon Chung news91@donga.com