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Umbrella unions join forces

FKTU, KCTU leaders agree to team up against labor policy


The heads of the nation’s two umbrella unions vowed Monday to stand against what they call a oppressive Lee Myung-bak administration and influence the by-elections slated for Wednesday.

This is the first time the two groups jointly and publicly denounced the administration.

Lee Yong-deug, head of the more moderate Federation of Korean Trade Union, and Kim Young-hoon, chief of the militant Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, reproached the Labor Law revision, whose grace period ends in June.

“The current administration should apologize to the people for triggering public anxiety about the unstable system and the regression of democracy in the nation,” they stated. “The authorities should also turn their policies people-friendly rather than business and tycoon-friendly.”

Lee and Kim warned that the unionists, which number around 1.2 million as of 2009 will vote against the ruling party in the upcoming by-election. “We will cease all dialogue with the administration and will encourage all workers to cast ballots against the ruling party candidates as a show of our power,” they said.

The controversial revision allows plural labor unions in a single workplace and bans management from paying wages to full-time unionists who do not provide labor to the company. The revised law is expected to impose a huge burden on union members as they must cover wages of all their leaders and also face challenges from other possible unions to be established within the same workplace.

According to the Ministry of Employment and Labor, the number of full-time unionists has been slashed by 30 percent already and is expected to keep shrinking until large companies such as Hyundai Motor, with 45,000 union members, have 24 full time unionists from the previous 233.

The multiple union system is feared to weaken the power of unions, too.

The two unions’ collaboration has a special meaning in that the FKTU publicly admitted its mistake in joining hands with the ruling Grand National Party and returned to its aggressive stance. The KCTU, on the other hand, maintained its hard-line policies, which are said to have worsened labor-government relations. FKTU head Lee visited the Labor Ministry in February to request his last favor for another grace period of law enforcement but was flatly rejected.

The government has so far been unresponsive to the Monday statement. Labor Minister Bahk Jae-wan seemed less than impressed with the unionists’ performance.

“The revision passed the National Assembly in 1997 and its enforcement has been delayed for 13 years. We’ve had too long a grace period,” he said to The Korea Herald on Monday.

“The implementation is extremely important for the nation’s international credibility. The labor relations have always been a headache for foreign investors into Korea and we will not stand it anymore,” he added.

By Bae Ji-sook  (baejisook@heraldcorp.com)
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