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Minister vows to push own labor reforms

 The South Korean government vowed Friday to push ahead with its own bill on labor reform, after negotiations between labor, management and government representatives fell through.

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Choi Kyung-hwan said the government had no choice but to initiate the legislative procedure citing time constraints. But he added that any agreement reached by the tripartite committee before the process was finalized would be reflected in the bill.

“Considering the time needed to pass the labor reform bill, allocation of the budget and the National Assembly‘s schedule, we cannot wait indefinitely until the tripartite committee strikes a deal,” he said at a press conference in Sejong Government Complex. 

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Choi Kyung-hwan. Yonhap
Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Choi Kyung-hwan. Yonhap
The budget for the labor reform was to be submitted later Friday. The government will start work on the bill with the ruling Saenuri Party next week, Choi said.

Seoul had set Thursday as the deadline for the tripartite committee to see eye to eye on labor market reform, negotiations over which resumed late last month after collapsing in April.

Issues to be covered in the government-Saenuri bill include raising unemployment benefits, reducing working hours and expanding the compensation for workers injured while commuting.

The Labor Ministry also plans to iron out administrative guidelines that will make it easier for companies to lay off underperforming workers and introduce policies that penalize workers for poor performance. These have been among the most contentious issues in the three-way talks.

Labor Minister Lee Ki-kweon said while the workers should back down on the lay-offs issue, the corporations should make compromises by hiring more workers.

Korea is pushing back the retirement age to 60, starting next year, which is expected to raise employment-related costs even with the wage peak system that will also be implemented the same year. Under the peak wage system, employees are allowed to work for longer but are given reduced salaries as they approach retirement.

But the government’s announcement to power through with the labor reform has faced objections from the labor side and the opposition party.

Kim Dae-hwan, head of a tripartite committee, asserted that the committee had never set a deadline for the talks, vowing to resume the negotiations on Saturday regardless of the government’s decision.

Rep. Moon Jae-in, leader of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy, berated the government’s labor reform plans.

“A labor policy that makes it easier to lay off workers and reduce their wages is a backwards policy,” he said.

NPAD floor leader Rep. Lee Jong-kul defined the government’s unilateral labor reform move as “a threat to the workers,” which he said would harm the labor market.

By Yoon Min-sik (