167 new unions created under new multiple union system

Posted on : 2011-07-12 14:59 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Observers say many of the unions are pro-government and have closer ties to management

By Kim So-youn 
In the 10 days since the implementation of the multiple union system, allowing multiple labor unions at the same company, 167 new unions have been created. A total of 91 percent (152) of these have been created at workplaces that already have a union. It therefore appears that competition between unions to acquire the right to represent workers during negotiations is set to intensify.
The Ministry of Employment and Labor (MOEL) stated on July 11 that 76 unions reported their establishment on July 1, the first day on which multiple unions became legal, to public labor offices and local authorities across the country. From July 4 through 7, each day the number of reported new unions was 36,18, 14, 10 and 13, respectively, bringing the total number of new unions, as of the ministry’s statement, to 167.
Most of the new unions broke off from existing unions within the Federation of Korean Trade Unions (65) and the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (64). The majority of them did not opt for membership in a new umbrella union. Just 12 have chosen the FKTU and 7 the KCTU, with 150 having joined neither.
The transportation field, including taxi and bus drivers and workers, accounted for an overwhelming proportion of the new unions at 65.3 percent (97), while public institutions produced 20, manufacturing 19 and finance 7. The rapid proliferation of new unions is causing serious concern in labor circles. This is because the new organizing trend is led not by workers that previously had difficulties forming unions, such as those at workplaces with no existing union or those in part-time employment, but by workers with a close relationship to company managements.
“We are noticing that most of the new unions created at taxi firms are those with intervention by company management,” said one FKTU official. The taxi industry currently has the Korean Taxi Union, which is affiliated to the FKTU, and the Korea Taxi Workers’ Union, which is affiliated to the KCTU.
Among public institutions, too, where the “user” is effectively the government, unions with “user-friendly” inclinations are increasing in number. Workers at the five main national power generation companies affiliated to KEPCO (Korea Electric Power Corporation) are represented by the Korea Power Plant Industry Union, affiliated to the KCTU, but unions emphasizing a cooperative relationship with the company management have recently been created at Korea Southern Power Co., Ltd., Korea South-East Power Co., Ltd. and Korea Western Power Co., Ltd.
“Unions inevitably engage in struggles, but as a public enterprise, we have to obey orders that come from the government,” said Jeon Gyeong-se, chairman of the Korea South-East Power Co., Ltd. union. “If we just keep fighting in accordance with the KCTU policy, people get fired and punished and all union members get sick of it. That’s why we created a new union.”
In the case of industry-specific metalworkers’ unions, too, additional unions are have been created in workplaces with long-running labor struggles, including Doosan Mottrol, KEC, Parker Mobile Control Division Asia and Bowater Korea. It is considered highly likely that the respective company management are supporting these unions.
The establishment of profession-specific unions has also been remarkable. Branch workers at Daewoo Securities have created a union, while white-collar workers at companies including Korea Maritime Institute and Daewoo Electronics have established their own separate unions.
“Many new labor unions are coming into being in addition to those already in existence,” said a MOEL official. “Moreover, most of the new unions are not joining higher bodies. Therefore, it is possible that the existing monopolistic structure of labor unions will be weakened,” said an MOEL official.
On July 11, the KCTU issued a critical statement, saying, “The fact alone that so many company unions keep appearing in the early days of the introduction of this system, at workplaces where KCTU-affiliated unions already exist, demonstrates that the system of a single negotiation channel under a multiple union system is designed to work entirely to the advantage of the user.”
Please direct questions or comments to [englishhani@hani.co.kr]

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