Dialogues in the Economic and Social Development Commission are expected to be resumed to address urgent labor issues such as the scope of ordinary wages, working hour reductions, and retirement age extension. However, the differences between the opinions of the government, labor community, and employers are so significant that a great compromise is less likely in the near future.
The Federation of Korean Trade Unions announced on July 29 that it would return to the commission, which has been halted for eight months, on certain conditions.
The three-party talks were stopped in December last year, when the government sent the police into the headquarters of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions to arrest the Korean Railway Workers’ Union leaders who spearheaded a long-term strike. In response, the Federation of Korean Trade Unions declared its withdrawal from the commission and the discussions on urgent pending issues have gone nowhere since then.
The hiatus resulted in increasing confusion as to the scope of ordinary wages, and the three parties became inclined to deal with the issues with the implementation of the retirement age at 60 around the corner. In particular, the government was in desperate need of employers’ and labor unions’ cooperation to accelerate job creation and resolve the divide between permanent and temporary workers. The business community was eager to have done with the collective wage negotiations for productivity enhancement, too.
The commission is expected to be put back into operation early next month, once a conference system for public-sector issues is established in the commission and the Federation of Korean Trade Unions makes its final decision on participation.
Although this is a piece of good news, a great compromise is another issue, since the confrontation among the parties is still very sharp.
For example, the labor community is in favor of including bonuses paid one or more months later in the ordinary wage, according to the recent ruling by the Supreme Court, but employers are opposed to it. When it comes to the reduction of working hours, the former is advocating an immediate implementation, while the latter is for phased implementation. They have different views as well with regard to fundamental labor rights such as layoff requirements. Even the Tripartite Subcommittee of the Environment and Labor Committee of the National Assembly, which took the place of the commission between February and April this year, failed to deal with the issues.
Under the circumstances, many experts are mentioning a give-one, take-one package deal as a solution to the current situation. Kim Dae-hwan, chairman of the commission, also mentioned its necessity during the three-party meeting held on July 29.