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Unions warn of action for legal revision

The new leader of the nation’s largest umbrella labor union pledged Thursday that the group will head toward a hard-line stance if no revision is made to the labor union law.

“My predecessor, who saw labor-management relations stabilized, had worked in a way to be helpful to the Korean economy. However, there is no room for us to do so,” said Lee Yong-deuk, chairman of the Federation of Korean Trade Unions, in his first official news conference. 
Lee Yong-deuk, chairman of the Federation of Korean Trade Unions, speaks at a news conference in Seoul on Thursday.
Lee Yong-deuk, chairman of the Federation of Korean Trade Unions, speaks at a news conference in Seoul on Thursday.

“The labor environment has been hit hard by (last year’s) revision to the labor union law. The situation seems urgent. My priority is to straighten up the mistaken law.”

Based on policy solidarity with the ruling Grand National Party, the FKTU has maintained a moderate stance on the labor policy of President Lee Myung-bak, distancing itself from the second-largest and more radical Korean Confederation of Trade Unions. 
Members of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions hold a rally in Gwacheon, south of Seoul, Thursday. (Yonhap News)
Members of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions hold a rally in Gwacheon, south of Seoul, Thursday. (Yonhap News)

However, relations started deteriorating last year when the government, despite fierce resistance from labor, pushed ahead a legal revision which, among other things, bans corporate payment of employees working full time as a union official and introduces a multiple unions system to individual workplaces.

“The hard-liner union (KCTU) secured the payment of full-time union officials by raising overall income through collective bargaining. In case of the FKTU, however, their number has been cut in half,” he said.

Calling the KCTU a “great organization,” Lee also hinted at going tougher in its future policy direction and cooperating with the militant umbrella union in the coming months.

“I felt the KCTU was doing well when it handled the revision issue. We need to work together for the entire revision of the current law,” he said.

The FKTU plans to officially call for dialogue with management and the government during its meeting of union representatives scheduled on Feb. 24. If the meeting fails to narrow their differences over the revision within March, Lee said, the group will stage demonstrations starting with the seasonal pay-rise struggle in April.

Lee also made it clear that the group’s solidarity with GNP has already been nullified.

“The original purpose was to strengthen labor rights and protect workers. However, we have gained nothing and they didn’t keep their promise,” he said, adding that “the policy solidarity has already been thrown in the trash.”

With the controversial multiple unions system scheduled to take effect in July, labor-management tensions are expected to deepen in the coming months.

The government has claimed the new system would protect the rights of independent workers who are not affiliated with major unions, while the FKTU and the KCTU have said it is aimed at weakening the solidarity of unionized workers.

In a separate news meeting Thursday, the KCTU also warned of all-out fights in order to revise the labor union law and block the parliamentary approval of the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement.

“The nation’s employment strategy justifies itself in the name of lessening working hours and creating more jobs. But it aims to maximize business profits, deepening the wrong labor structure of low income and unstable employment status,” the group said in a statement.

The group also criticized that the Korea-U.S. FTA will benefit just some multinational conglomerates and their investors.

The group plans to strike when the ratification bill is brought to the National Assembly for review. On Feb. 25, it will hold a nationwide assembly to gain momentum, the group said.

By Lee Ji-yoon (jylee@heraldcorp.com)
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