[Editorial] Government’s head-on collision with labor

Posted on : 2009-05-19 12:24 KST Modified on : 2009-05-19 12:24 KST

The trend towards a clash between government and labor is serious. Police and prosecutors are escalating their attack on unionists, who were already incensed over a mass detention following a labor rally calling for a general strike was convened in Daejeon on Saturday by the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU, Minju Nochong) and the Korea Cargo Transport Workers’ Union (KCTWU).

Prosecutors and police say that they plan to pursue criminal punishments against all who have been detained since Saturday’s rally. They have applied for 32 arrest warrants, and 249 people have been booked without arrest. Meanwhile, labor is protesting loudly, and is even demanding a direct apology from President Lee Myung-bak. The KCTU is calling this latest incident a government-driven provocation against democracy and basic labor rights, and is warning it could move up the timetable for a general strike, originally planned for late June.

Despite the worsening situation, the ministries in charge, the Ministry of Labor and the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs, are either folding their hands of the matter or pouring oil on the flames of conflict. Labor Minister Lee Young-hee offered ridiculous remarks at a press conference Sunday in reference to the suicide of KCTWU Gwangju 1st Bureau Head Park Jong-tae that he did not think this matter was significant enough to end one’s life over, and that one should think about the value of life. In reference to whether he would engage in dialogue with the KCTU and KCTWU, Lee said the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs was the appropriate agency to handle the matter. He also said from the position of a government that regarded law and principles as important, the government needed to think carefully about holding talks with entities engaging in illegal acts. It is hard to believe that such wretched statements came from the mouth of a minister who is tasked with responsibility for labor issues.

Joining in, President Lee Myung-bak stressed in a radio address yesterday that gaining flexibility in the labor market was an important task that could not be delayed, offering a firm expression of intention that he will be pushing government policy in areas of friction with labor. It is the firm intention of government that it will pass the bills to amend the Irregular Workers Protection Law, the prohibition of multiple unions at the enterprise level, and wage pay for full-time unionists even though there is strong opposition coming from labor unions. Dark clouds are gathering in labor-management and labor-government relations.

Fortunately, KCTU is leaving open space for dialogue, saying that they, too, have economic revival as their goal and want to resolve issues through talks. In the end, the choice is the government’s. We hope the government decides wisely to rationally resolve the issue through dialogue with labor as it will help secure its goals of labor-management peace and the advancement of labor, otherwise, choosing a hardline stance will only be an invitation to disaster.

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

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