Yoon’s hard pivot to “eradicating labor union corruption” prompts outcry from organizers

Posted on : 2022-12-22 16:46 KST Modified on : 2022-12-22 16:46 KST
Labor groups protested that Yoon is attempting to rule by force and violating their right to organize
President Yoon Suk-yeol speaks at an emergency economics and livelihoods meeting on Dec. 21 at the Blue House guest house in Seoul. (presidential office pool photo)
President Yoon Suk-yeol speaks at an emergency economics and livelihoods meeting on Dec. 21 at the Blue House guest house in Seoul. (presidential office pool photo)

President Yoon Suk-yeol on Wednesday slammed labor union corruption as “one of three big forms of corruption that must be eradicated, along with official corruption and corporate corruption,” and called for the “strict execution of the law.”

With Yoon signaling that he intends to go beyond labor reform to launch sweeping corrective inspections of labor unions as he enters his second year in office, labor groups protested that Yoon is attempting to rule by force and violating their right to organize.

Receiving a briefing from the Ministry of Economy and Finance while chairing the 12th gathering of the emergency economic and public livelihood meeting and the inaugural national economic advisory meeting at the Blue House, Yoon said his first priority was labor reform.

“In our society, labor union corruption, even in the relationships between unions, has become a matter of interest for many people,” he said.

“Our corporations were able to become global corporations by bolstering their accounting transparency,” he said. “Labor union activity can develop in an even healthier way only upon a base of transparent accounting.”

The president’s remarks can be interpreted as a declaration of his plans to take strong measures to combat corruption in labor unions, just as companies improved their competitiveness by adopting transparent accounting.

Prime Minister Han Duck-soo talked about the transparency of labor union’s financial operations on Sunday, while on Tuesday, the ruling People Power Party proposed a bill aimed at “preventing opaque accounting by labor unions,” and now even Yoon has called for “eradicating labor union corruption” and “strict execution of the law.”

The government is likely to use this as a pretext for launching a sweeping offensive aimed at the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU).

The government has long regarded the KCTU with hostility, calling it an “obstacle to labor reform.”

Seemingly behind Yoon’s advocacy of “eradicating labor union corruption” is his confidence in gaining public support with his “principled” stand during the recent truckers’ strike.

His strategy is to gain the support of the public by applying his trademarks of “fairness” and “eradicating corruption” to labor unions as well.

Eliminating union corruption was not in Yoon’s original script.

It reportedly reflects the president’s strong determination to use “labor-management rule of law” to deal firmly with what he calls “aristocratic unions that oppress unorganized workers.”

A high-ranking presidential official who met with reporters on Wednesday said the president is “determined to correct corrupt behavior holding back industrial development and economic growth,” and that the government believes “labor unions will agree to this on their own.”

Firstly, investigative agencies will likely launch investigations through government audits and accusations regarding state support provided to unions.

Labor groups are resisting Yoon’s plans, calling it an attempt to “undermine unions in the name of so-called labor reform.”

KCTU spokesperson Han Sang-jin said if there are problems with unions’ books, “that’s the domain of criminal punishments, and unions have not skirted responsibility, nor will they in the future.”

He added that attempts to undermine unions, the “biggest obstacle to bad reforms of labor,” are bound to fail.

Federation of Korean Trade Unions spokesperson Lee Ji-hyeon also said that the union “could not agree that labor union corruption is so great as to be comparable with official corruption and corporate corruption,” and wondered if the nation is witnessing a “return to politics of force, using the knife of the investigative authorities.”

Experts, too, say Yoon’s drive violates unions’ right to organize.

Pukyong National University labor law professor Jeong Yeong-hun said unions should be showing transparent financials to their members, not the government, and that “it’s best for unions themselves to create accounting principles.”

He added that labeling unions as “corrupt groups” and trying to intervene in them “could lead to restricting legitimate union activity and violating the right to organize.”

Kim Jong-jin, the director of the nonprofit Union Center, said one could only conclude that the government’s series of moves premeditated, and that “if the state engaged in violent repression in the past, it now responds by using the media to label unions as ‘corrupt’ and ‘aristocratic.’”

By Bae Ji-hyun, staff reporter; Jang Hyeon-eun, staff reporter; Park Tae-woo, staff reporter

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

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