Political leadership needed to reach social contract
Published : 2013-09-30 19:22
Updated : 2013-09-30 19:22
Korea’s national competitiveness ranked 25th on a list of 148 countries released by the World Economic Forum last month, prompting calls here for strengthened efforts to further sharpen its global competitive edge. Among the major obstacles to enhancing the country’s competitiveness are its inflexible labor market and strained labor-management relations. Korea’s labor market efficiency and labor-management cooperation placed 78th and 132nd, respectively, on the 2013 WEF list.
President Park Geun-hye cited these rankings when she called for upgrading labor-management relations during a recent meeting of the Economic and Social Development Commission, a presidential advisory body aimed at building consensus among labor, management and government on contentious issues. She became the first president to attend a session of the tripartite panel since 2003.
Park’s promise to help promote discussions at the commission mainly reflected her wish to form a favorable atmosphere for achieving the goal of increasing the employment rate to 70 percent. She has put top priority on creating more jobs as the most effective way of narrowing the gap between the rich and poor and resolving other social and economic problems.
As she noted during last Friday’s session of the commission, however, government efforts alone will not be enough to reach the target. She was right to emphasize that entrepreneurs, workers and organizations representing them should all have the wisdom to make concessions and compromises to create more jobs and open up a path for coexistence.
The commission, which was launched in 1998, is now required to play a more active role than ever as an inclusive framework for social dialogue to settle a pile of issues dividing the public and thus ensure the continuous and harmonious advancement of the nation. It should be reminded that Sweden, the Netherlands and Germany overcame their national challenges and consolidated their economic foundations for viable prosperity through a grand compromise among labor, management and government.
The tripartite commission has remained inactive or even moribund for the past years since making some contribution to overcoming the foreign exchange crisis that hit Korea in the late 1990s. The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, the more militant of the nation’s two major umbrella labor groups, quit the panel shortly after its inception, complaining that its demands had not been met.
Each item of the agenda to be tackled by the commission, including the scope of ordinary wages, reduction in working hours and giving irregular workers regular status, seems difficult to settle. But it may be possible for participants in the trilateral discussion to reach a package deal that transcends differences on individual issues.
Effective and visionary political leadership will be needed to enable the parties with conflicting interests to work out a social contract by shouldering their share of the burden.
President Park appointed a former labor minister who served under the late liberal President Roh Moo-hyun to head the commission in June in a possible hint at a bipartisan approach by the conservative leader. It will take more persistent, strenuous and creative efforts from her to induce the commission into fulfilling its mission.