A recent survey showed that a majority of local companies were worried that labor-management relations would further deteriorate this year, with thorny issues piling up over wages and working conditions. In the poll of 232 businesses, released by the Korea Employers’ Federation this week, more than 76 percent expected labor-management ties to worsen in 2014. Only 2.7 percent saw a possibility for improvement. This outlook was the gloomiest in five years.
The survey cited possible labor-management conflicts over the scope of ordinary wages, the introduction of the wage peak system linked to the extension of the retirement age and the reduction of working hours to create more jobs.
What is also worrying is that the main political parties may be trying to curry favor with labor groups by legislating bills against large employers in the run-up to the local polls in June. More than 60 percent of the companies polled were concerned that the elections would have a negative effect on labor-management relations.
Due attention should be paid to corporate calls for improving legal and institutional systems to meet more reasonable standards and preventing labor-management issues from being politicized. But it seems unlikely that the government will play an active coordinating role given its tense relationship with labor circles following its handling of a recent strike by railway workers.
With its economy at a critical turning point on the road to a sustained recovery, the country cannot afford further exacerbations of labor-management ties. Stable labor conditions are also critical for attracting foreign direct investment, which is needed to further boost the economy.
Labor and management should strengthen efforts to reach a proper compromise by setting their sights on the big picture ― the economy. Well-paid workers, in particular, need to take heed of the plight of a growing number of jobless youths.