SEOUL, Aug. 20 (Korea Bizwire) — The government and the ruling party are pushing ahead with the rigid labor market reform despite strong opposition from the major opposition party and labor unions.
On Tuesday, an umbrella labor union decided not to resume dialogue with the government and management on labor market reforms and announced that it will make a decision next week on whether to resume the talks.
The dialogue of a tripartite committee of the government, businesses and labor organizations has been stalled since April 8, when the Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU) walked out of negotiations.
The FKTU, the more conservative of the country’s two major umbrella labor unions, had been leading the negotiations with the government on behalf of the labor sector.
“Some radical members of the FKTU have looked away from the tears of the youth and the non-temporary workers to protect their own interests,” Kim Moo-sung, the leader of the ruling Saenuri Party, said in a meeting with senior party members Wednesday.
The most contentious issue between the three parties is the government’s push to adopt a peak wage system for elderly workers as part of an ongoing effort to create more jobs for the younger generation.
The system calls for the retirement age of workers to be pushed back, which will give these people greater job security.
The same people benefiting from this will have to accept lower wages for a few years just before retirement, with the money saved by this arrangement to be used to hire new employees.
Job creation particularly for young people has become a pressing matter with the jobless rate among people between ages 15 and 29 reaching 9.4 percent in July, much higher than the 3.7 percent national average.
As part of efforts to push ahead with the drive, the Saenuri Party set up a special labor reform committee to reform the structure of the labor sector.
“I ask the FKTU return to the tripartite committee and speak for the entire workers and the future generation,” Rep. Rhee In-je, chief of the committee, said.
The ruling party said that more than 70 percent of workers are in favor of the system, citing a public survey conducted by the Ministry of Labor last month.
Chairman Kim has been stressing the importance of giving more jobs to the youth and the unemployed, citing data that only 10.3 percent of all workers have joined labor unions.
“The members of the FKTU and the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions only make up eight percent (of the total workers),” Kim added.
“It is a rare phenomenon that the youth in their 20s and 30s have responded to a policy pushed ahead by the party,” a Saenuri official told Yonhap News Agency
The main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy, meanwhile, argues that reforming the chaebol is a higher priority than the government-led labor reforms.
The party argues that the calls for chaebol reform have mounted after a family feud at Lotte Group.
Finance Minister Choi Kyung-hwan expressed disappointment over the FKTU’s decision, hinting that the government will not only rely on the tripartite committee in reform drive.
“Reforming the labor market is the most important issue faced by our government,” Choi told reporters at the National Assembly, adding that the government will do its best in resuming the dialogue but will not entirely depend on the committee.
The Korea Employers’ Federation also urged the union to return to the dialogue table, saying that there are urgent issues to be discussed for the unemployed youth.
“The FKTU should immediately resume dialogue with the responsibility for the unemployed workers and the youths who are suffering from looking for jobs,” the federation said.