SEOUL, Dec. 31 (Yonhap) — South Korea’s leading umbrella on Thursday threatened to annul the labor reform agreement reached at tripartite talks in September.
In a New Year’s message by Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU) chief Kim Dong-man, the union claimed unilateral actions taken by the government and the ruling Saenuri Party to outline new guidelines, which can allow companies to fire under-performing workers and unilaterally change rules of employment, violated the understanding reached at talks between management, labor and government.
The chairman said the FKTU, which was party to the tripartite talks, will hold an emergency meeting of its central committee early in the new year to retract its support of the landmark pact and discuss ways to carry out its struggle against the government.
The FKTU had agreed in principle to reforms that could give businesses a free hand in firing workers and altering employment terms, which were not permitted in the past. It, however, insisted that details needed to be worked out between all parties so as not to penalize workers.
“The government’s guideline announced on Wednesday follows closed door meetings with ‘experts’ that did not take into account the position of workers,” the message said. “By unilaterally announcing the guidelines, the government effectively crossed the line.”
The umbrella union then said that while it waited with patience for the government and the Saenuri Party to show flexibility, it now believed that there was little chance of change.
“At this juncture, all that remains is for us to make a decision,” it said.
Such a stance received support from the Korea Financial Industries Union that released a separate statement earlier in the day denouncing the government’s actions and urging a strong united front against the government.
The government, meanwhile, made clear that its guidelines conformed to the general agreement reached.
Policymakers have repeatedly stressed that South Korea’s current labor laws are outdated and hurt the country’s global competitiveness. Existing labor standard acts effectively make it hard for employers to fire workers unless the company is close to collapse or must undergo sweeping restructuring efforts to stay afloat.
“Firing of under-performing workers can only take place if the workers have been given every opportunity to improve themselves,” it said. The government also stressed that fair and objective evaluation on performance must be carried out before a person can be dismissed.
On changing the rules of employment, the government said that changes can be made if the alterations are “socially acceptable.” It, moreover, takes into account the impact on workers and critical need to make changes because of managerial necessity. It, calls on companies to carry out sufficient talks with workers and to follow trends within the same industry.