THE Korean Railway Workers’ Union ended its physical confrontations and decided to return to work. This seemed due to the government’s determined stance to go with the law and the public’s opinion that their behavior was unjustified. Like other workers in the trade unions of large businesses, workers at the National Railway Corporation are paid much more than workers in the nation’s small and medium-sized companies, with over 400 union members earning salaries close to that of the Chief Executive of the National Rail Corporation. Under these circumstances, they had no choice but to stop the strike. However, the situation is still fragile and no one can predict such a strike will not happen again in the near future.
A few days later, trade union representatives grinded out a moratorium with corporate representatives based on the government’s initiative to allow multiple unions in a single workplace and to ban companies from paying union members who work only on union business. Such an agreement among the Federation of Korean Trade Unions, the Korea Employers Federation, and the Ministry of Labor is a significant step towards working together to overcome the current difficult economy. It is an astounding accomplishment, considering that past governments did not even consider offering resistance to labor unions.
This agreement reached by management and labor is the nation’s first step towards a global standard for its labor environment, something which has been suspended for the last 10 years. If Korea’s labor environment, which has been evaluated as one of the worst in the world, is elevated to the level of developed countries, there is no reason for corporations to oppose the system of multiple unions. Now the agreement should be made law as quickly as possible.
In the process of making the labor law, a new paradigm for labormanagement relations should be ironed out to mark the current change in the labor and management environment. Both the ruling and opposition parties should catch up with this change and formulate a new labor law that will boost the nation’s competitiveness from an international standpoint. If they fail to do so, history will judge them as having missed a perfect opportunity.