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South Korea’s Lost Work Days 172 Times More than Japan’s
Labor-Management Relations at Their Worst Level
South Korea’s Lost Work Days 172 Times More than Japan’s
  • By Jung Suk-yee
  • December 17, 2019, 15:00
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South Korea had lost much more work days than the United States, the United Kingdom and Japan during the decade from 2007 to 2017.

Korea’s lost work days per 1,000 paid workers during the decade from 2007 to 2017 amounted to 42,327 days, much larger than 23,360 days of the United Kingdom, 6,036 days of the United States, and 245 days of Japan, the Korea Economic Research Institute (KERI) said in a report on Dec. 16.

South Korea lost work days 1.8 times more than the United Kingdom, seven times more than the United States, and 172.4 times more than Japan. Korea saw the number of lost work days per 1,000 wage workers increase by 9,900 days in the same period, but the figure dropped by 6,200 days in the United States, 300 days in Japan and 31,000 days in the United Kingdom. The International Labor Organization (ILO) uses work days lost per 1,000 paid workers to compare levels of labor strikes among countries.

The average number of labor union members for the 10 years was 1.81 million in Korea, the lowest, following 6.56 million in the United Kingdom, 9.97 million in Japan, and 14.93 million in the United States. However, the average number of labor strikes per year was 100.8 in Korea, which is the second most frequent, compared to 13.6 in the United States, 38.5 in Japan and 120.1 in the United Kingdom.

The number of labor strikes per 10,000 labor union workers was 0.56 in Korea, highest in the four countries, with 0.01 in the United States, 0.04 in Japan, and 0.18 in the United Kingdom. Korea’s frequency was 3 times higher than the United Kingdom, 14.4 times higher than Japan, and 61.2 times higher than the United States. The United States and Japan had more labor union workers, but they marked fewer labor strikes than Korea. The United Kingdom had more labor strikes than Korea in aggregate but fewer per labor union worker.

Over the decade, Korea had the lowest average trade union membership rate of 10.3 percent, behind the United States with 11.4 percent, Japan with 17.8 percent, and the United Kingdom with 25.8 percent. Korea saw no change in the membership rate but had higher lost work days, while the three countries showed a fall both in their membership rate and lost work days.

Korea ranked 123rd in the level of labor-management cooperation during the past decade assessed by the World Economic Forum (WEF), far behind the United States (30th), Japan (7th), and the United Kingdom (24th). Korea placed 55th in 2007, but in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, it slipped drastically to lower places and remains in the range of 130th. Korea also ranked 97th in the degree of labor market flexibility for this year assessed by the WEF, far behind the United States (3rd), Japan (11th), and the United Kingdom (14th).

Labor experts believe that the low evaluation for Korea’s labor-management cooperation and labor market flexibility is largely attributable to institutional conditions where it is hard for labor and management to discuss on equal footing. They point out the labor-management balance tilts to the labor as the country prohibits the hiring of replacement workers during a strike and partially permits strike actions within a workplace.