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[Editorial] Full-time Unionists Take Away 20,000 Jobs

Posted December. 04, 2009 09:02,   


The Federation of Korean Industries yesterday said a full-time unionist at the country’s top 35 companies in revenue was an average 63.27 million won (54,970 U.S. dollars) per year, more than double that for an employee. A full-time unionist also received his or her salary and overtime pay while on strike. Other workers are subject to the “no work, no pay” rule but union leaders enjoy more privileges. Forty percent of union leaders are paid on par with company executives, with some raking in more than 100 million won (86,800 dollars) per year.

Certain large companies have provided luxury cars such as Hyundai Grandeurs and Sonatas and gas money to union leaders. Certain full-time union members have not been to their workplace for 16 years yet receive a salary from the company. Can they be called workers? Full-time union leaders nationwide earned a combined 428.8 billion won (372.5 million dollars) last year, an amount that could have been used to hire 20,000 entry-level employees. Labor aristocrats are taking away jobs that many young people are seeking.

Union leaders continue to receive salaries without working because of the 13-year delay in the implementation of a ban on pay for them under the Labor Union Law. Except for the collective bargaining period, full-time union workers in almost all other countries do not get a salary. In Japan, full-time unionists are temporarily laid off and the union pays their salaries.

Korea is the world’s only country in which an employer pays the salary of full-time unionists, and this undermines a company’s competitive edge. While the ban on paying a salary to full-time union workers has been delayed, the number of such unionists has increased from an average of 2.2 per company in 2002 to 3.6 last year. Since the company pays their wages, its union sees no need to reduce their number.

Despite this circumstance, an agreement has yet to be reached on the ban and multiple unions at one workplace. The Labor Ministry and the Korean Federation of Trade Unions in a working-level meeting yesterday reached a consensus that multiple unions will be allowed from 2011 after a one-year grace period. The ban on paying full-time unionists will be implemented at companies with 30,000 or more employees from next year, and to all companies in three years. The response of the Korea Employers’ Federation will be a factor, however. The Hyundai-Kia Automotive Group has pulled out of the federation, saying early implementation of the ban by large companies will make them a target for unions.

If a deal is not struck by the end of the year, the ban must be implemented under law. This is not what labor and management want. They have to put their heads together and hold tough negotiations to strike an agreement this year. Time is running out.