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Labor, management leaders escalate feud over next year's minimum wage

Representatives of labor and management are escalating a feud over whether to increase the nation's legal minimum wage next year ahead of their final negotiations at the Minimum Wage Commission.

The 27-member Minimum Wage Commission, a trilateral panel composed of nine representatives each from labor, management and the general public, was to begin its final round of negotiations at the Sejong Government Complex in Sejong on Tuesday before setting the hourly minimum wage for 2020 on Thursday.

But the worker councilors of the commission boycotted the commission meeting in protest of the employer commissioners' call for lowering the minimum wage from the current 8,350 won ($7.08) to 8,000 won.

The labor representatives issued a statement of boycott urging their management counterparts to immediately retract calls for a minimum wage reduction and produce a "reasonable" amendment.

The management circles have proposed a 4.2 percent cut in the hourly minimum wage to 8,000 won next year, whereas the labor sector has demanded that the legal minimum wage be raised 19.8 percent to 10,000 won. It was the first time in a decade that the nation's management circles have asked for a minimum wage reduction.

South Korea's minimum wage has been increased by 30 percent over the past two years to reach 8,350 won in accordance with President Moon Jae-in's election pledge to raise the minimum wage to 10,000 won by 2020 as part of his income-led growth policy. The labor circles said a further wage increase is necessary next year to give hope to low-wage workers, whereas the management side argued excessive minimum wage hikes will further intensify pressure on small business owners, in particular.

"The nation is not in a state of sovereign insolvency. But the management side has demanded a cut in the minimum wage regardless of consumer price increases and economic growth rates. It is an unreasonable act that insults low-income workers and denies the minimum wage system," the labor representatives' statement said.

The management representatives stepped up criticism of their labor counterparts in a news conference at the Seoul Foreign Correspondents' Club in central Seoul.

"The minimum wage has been increased too excessively over the past two years. The issue should now be resolved by the general economic logic. We're just insisting that the minimum wage be set at a level that can be endured by small merchants," they said.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Employment and Labor said at a National Assembly committee meeting Monday that the trilateral committee's determination of next year's minimum wage should come before next Monday at the latest in consideration of subsequent administrative procedures. (Yonhap)