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President, tripartite committee’s premature celebration

President, tripartite committee’s premature celebration

Posted September. 23, 2015 06:54,   


At a luncheon meeting with four representatives of the labor, management and government committee at the presidential office on Tuesday, President Park Geun-hye said, “If we continue to sustain the spirit of concessions and compromise, we will be able to create a great model for Korean style labor reform. Going forward, the government will respect the spirit and meaning of grand compromise, and faithfully implement the necessary follow-up measures.” President Park apparently called leaders of the tripartite committee of labor, management and the government and gave them words of encouragement again for the first time in just seven months, because she was inspired by the start of a labor reform drive. However, given that enacting laws for labor reform could hit a snag due to strong resistance by some groups in the labor community and the opposition party, their celebration may be premature one.

For one, reaching an agreement is elusive starting with core issues including guidelines for general layoffs and revision of the employment rules, which labor, management and the government agreed to implement after "sufficient discussions," due to intensely conflicting interests between labor and management. The issues of contract period of non-regular workers and dispatch of workers are also difficult to address due to conflicting interests between labor and management. As the Western proverb “Devils are in the details” suggests, the parties could engage in a destructive tug of war anew in the process to reach agreement on different issues under the grand compromise between labor, management and the government.

The presidential office, the government and the ruling Saenuri Party agreed on Sunday that they would revise the employment rules and prepare guidelines for implementing the criteria for general layoff by year’s end, and have five bills for labor reform, including the Labor Standards Act, and the Employment Insurance Act, enacted during the current regular session of the National Assembly. However, the Federation of Korean Trade Unions has started demanding five major bills submitted by the ruling Party be scrapped, saying that they run counter to the agreement. Kim Dae-hwan, chairman of the tripartite committee, said, “To recognize enactment as the only ultimate goal of labor reform is to interpret the meaning of the agreement too narrowly,” putting the brakes on the move to enact related laws. The government and the ruling party will naturally feel urgent, but accelerating labor reform poses many challenges.

President Park Geun-hye should also meet in person with leadership of the opposition party and leadership of the Korea Confederation of Trade Unions. If she only leaves the issue on the Saenuri Party and stages propaganda campaigns targeting the public, her administration will find it difficult to overcome the National Assembly Advancement Act. Only when she persuades the opposition party that is opposed to reform meant for the future of the Republic of Korea and find common grounds, then will her government be able to establish a model for Korean style labor reform.