Yoon plans reforms around rule of law, not democratic governance

Posted on : 2022-12-16 17:23 KST Modified on : 2022-12-16 17:23 KST
The South Korean president put labor reforms at the top of his agenda
President Yoon Suk-yeol speaks at a policy goal review meeting at the Blue House guesthouse on Dec. 15. (Yoon Woon-sik/The Hankyoreh)
President Yoon Suk-yeol speaks at a policy goal review meeting at the Blue House guesthouse on Dec. 15. (Yoon Woon-sik/The Hankyoreh)

“Reform isn’t popular, but it’s something that must be done and can’t be put off. It’s essential for sustainability,” South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol said on Thursday, referring to reform initiatives in the areas of pension, labor and education.

Yoon reaffirmed his resolute commitment to his platform of labor reform. “If we fail to achieve labor reform, if the labor issue turns into a political issue and a political football; it will wreck both our politics and our economy,” he said.

Most of Yoon’s initiatives demand political savvy both from the president and the ruling party, considering they require public consensus and the approval of the National Assembly. Nevertheless, Yoon only stressed “bipartisan cooperation” without exhibiting any commitment to cooperation with the opposition party or any specific means of realizing his plans.

Yoon made the comments while presiding over the first “policy goal review meeting” at the Blue House guesthouse on Thursday afternoon. The meeting was attended by Prime Minister Han Duck-soo, Cabinet members and members of the public.

The meeting on Thursday was held to unveil the blueprints for three of the Yoon administration’s key policy goals — orienting the economy on serving the public livelihood, redirecting resources from the capital to the provinces, and carrying out reforms in the three areas of labor, education and pension.

The meeting went on for two hours and 37 minutes, much longer than the hour and 40 minutes that had been originally planned. This was the second time that Yoon has presided over a meeting broadcast live, following the 11th emergency economy and livelihood meeting on Oct. 27.

Yoon stressed “establishing the rule of law” while devoting the most time in the meeting to explaining labor reform, one of the three reforms he’s championing.

The Korean president struck a stern tone in regard to strikes and other actions that are within the legal rights of labor unions. “If people go on strike every time they wake up in the morning, both sides [that is, labor and management] will have big losses. The rule of law needs to be established to normalize labor relations.”

“This kind of culture must not continue in the future,” Yoon said, referring to the recently concluded strike by the Cargo Truckers Solidarity Division under the Korean Public Service and Transport Workers’ Union, affiliated with the umbrella Korean Confederation of Trade Unions.

Yoon described Korea’s current labor regime as “dating back to the factory period in the 1960s and 1970s” and said that “Korea will fall back to third rate or fourth rate in the international market if the labor regime isn’t updated.”

Employment and Labor Minister Lee Jung-sik unveiled a reform plan that would reorient wages on job performance, give companies more flexibility when it comes to overtime and create synergy between prime contractors and subcontractors.

In regard to educational reform, Yoon emphasized “fair educational services as welfare” from infant care to secondary education and “strengthening state competitiveness” in higher education.

Yoon acknowledged that pension reform is a “long-term challenge,” remarking that “past administrations haven’t discussed it for fear of losing votes, and the previous administration didn’t even bring it up.”

“We need to start the process now so that exhaustive research and public discussion can be wrapped up and a completed version of pension reform can be unveiled late in this administration or early in the next one — a pension system that can be sustained for decades to come,” he said.

“A plan for reforming the national pension will be announced in October of the next year,” Health and Welfare Minister Cho Kyoo-hong said.

Yoon took a swipe at the previous administration’s real estate policy by saying that the heavy taxes imposed on owners of multiple properties — a tax he has promised to end — “shifted [the burden] to tenants, who are vulnerable members of our economy.”

Yoon also addressed his plans to scrap “Mooncare,” his predecessor’s attempt to expand health care coverage, as he sought to dispel fears about retrenchment of coverage.

“What we’re trying to do is eliminate the moral hazard that can harm well-meaning insurance enrollees and revamp the insurance system to make it more just,” he said.

By Kim Mi-na, staff reporter; Bae Ji-hyun, staff reporter; Sun Dam-eun, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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