Published : 2013-10-13 19:10
Updated : 2013-10-13 19:10
It is no small achievement for Korea to have pulled itself out of poverty in one generation. Many regard it as a wonder, if not a miracle. Behind the success story were underpaid workers. Their sacrifice was added to entrepreneurship to make Korea a country with a per capita GDP that now surpasses $22,000.
Apparently in recognition of their contribution, workers have been treated with kid gloves when they are found to be guilty of sabotage, violent protests and other unlawful acts. Now they cannot breach the law in anticipation of lenience, as the courts have been saying that enough is enough.
Last week, a lower court in Ulsan came up with a decision ordering a group of 11 workers to pay 2 billion won, the highest-ever amount, in compensation.
The workers halted a Hyundai auto assembly line with other workers in 2010, demanding a change in status from non-regular to regular. They were complaining that they were paid less and denied lifetime employment although they were doing the same kind of work done by regular workers.
Few would say their demands were totally unjustified. Discrimination against non-regular workers is a serious social problem that needs to be addressed constantly if it cannot be solved in the near future.
Even if their demands were justifiable, their illegal protest could not be condoned. That was the message that the court was sending out when it said their illegal occupation of an assembly line was an “antisocial act,” which it said went beyond what could be tolerated by the society as a whole.
The court has recently been stern against unlawful labor practices against employers. In July, a former Hyundai union leader, who had halted an auto assembly line, was ordered to pay 100 million won in compensation. Two other union leaders were told to pay 300 million the next month.
In the past, Hyundai and other companies refrained from pressing charges against lawbreaking workers to avoid worsening labor-management conflicts. If they pressed charges, they did so only to withdraw them.
Now employers find the damage intolerable. At Hyundai, for instance, the union has staged strikes for 403 days since it was established in 1987. Hyundai puts the damage at 16 trillion won.
With the court lending an ear to employers demanding compensation, unions will do well to think twice before launching an illegal protest.