The Korea Herald


Plural unionism changes labor scene


Published : Aug. 1, 2011 - 19:21

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A month after a ban on multiple trade unions was lifted, changes are in the making on the country’s labor scene, long dominated by two umbrella groups, officials at the Labor Ministry said Monday.

Some 300 new unions have been formed, most of them not affiliated with neither the Federation of Korean Trade Unions nor the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions.

“The multiple trade union system appears to be taking root smoothly,” Labor Minister Lee Chae-pil said, briefing reporters about labor conditions over the past month.

Under a new law, which went into effect on July 1, employees are free to set up labor unions, no matter how many there already are at their work site. When entering negotiations with management, they have to choose a single channel though.

“It looks like that the law is bringing a change to Korea’s traditional labor movement which has been characterized by the dominance of two umbrella groups,” the minister said.

According to the ministry’s data, 322 new labor unions have been established as of Aug. 1. Of them, 74.5 percent are breakaway units from the FKTU and the KCTU, which the ministry explained indicates union members’ dissatisfaction with the umbrella groups.

Some 28.3 percent of the new entities, or 78 unions, have secured more than a majority of all unionized workers at their worksite as their members, while 19.6 percent, or 61 unions, have more than half of all employees as their members.

The alternative umbrella body to be founded soon is another factor that may lead to a new labor culture.

The labor union of subway services operator Seoul Metro is leading the movement to create a new labor governing body, vowing to focus on delivering better working conditions and protecting labor rights. It criticizes the FKTU and the KCTU for being overly politicized.

Not surprisingly, the FKTU and the KCTU are not pleased with the plural-union system. They demand the amendment of the labor union law, claiming that it has only given management a tool powerful enough to sway the existing unions.

“Eighty to 90 percent of the new labor unions are small and they are paper unions created by management,” said Choi Sam-tae, spokesperson for the bigger FKTU.

The existing unions are troubled as management demands existing unions form a single negotiation channel with the new groups, he explained.

By Lee Sun-young (