Presidential hopeful targeted for attack on labor unions

Posted on : 2007-05-14 14:16 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Lee Myung-bak praises ‘pride’ of Indian workers who ’do not feel need’ to unionize
 a truce village on May 11 (Yonhap News)
a truce village on May 11 (Yonhap News)

Remarks by presidential hopeful Lee Myung-bak against labor unions have sparked criticism from the nation’s political and industrial sectors.

At a lecture held on May 7 at a Seoul hotel by the Seoul Financial Forum, an advocacy group, Lee said of a visit to Indian software company Wipro in April that he "found that its workers who were university graduates did not consider themselves as ‘laborers’ and reportedly didn’t get overtime allowances. As far as I know, they don’t form unions because they do not have the mindset of being laborers. It seems they have strong pride," Lee continued, portraying the non-unionized workers’ attitudes in a positive light.

Lee went on to say, "Back in Korea, I was shocked because a bill on [forming a] professors’ union had passed the National Assembly’s subcommittee."

Lee went on to joke, "The Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra joined the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions [KCTU]: yes, [now even] musicians belong to the KCTU, but they used to be members of the metal workers’ union, probably because violin strings are made of metal."

In response to Lee’s remarks, the KCTU issued a statement on May 11, saying, "Lee made absurd remarks positing that people without pride call themselves laborers and form labor unions. Lee’s denigration of labor unions stands as his admission that he is not qualified to lead the country."

The statement by the umbrella labor group went on to say, "Unless Lee apologizes for his remarks, we will launch a movement against his becoming a presidential candidate of the Grand National Party.

Kim Hyeong-tak, a spokesperson of the opposition Democratic Labor Party (DLP), said, "Lee seems intent on disregarding current laws, such as the Labor Standard Law under which workers are paid allowances for overtime work. Lee may be seeking to gain control of the nation on behalf of the jaebeol [Korea’s large conglomerates]."

The ruling Uri Party commented on May 9, "Lee’s remarks promoted an anti-union sentiment and expressed a poor labor philosophy that stems from Korea’s dictatorial era."

The Korea Federation of Public Services and Transportation Workers’ Union also weighed in on Lee’s statements: "He degraded labor unions and even distorted facts, as the Seoul Philharmonic has never joined the metal workers’ union."

The orchestra used to be a member of the Korea Federation of Public Services and Transportation Workers’ Union. When the orchestra became an independent corporation in 2005, however, its unionists withdrew their membership.

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