Political Tension Escalates over 'Yellow Envelope Bill' | Be Korea-savvy

Political Tension Escalates over ‘Yellow Envelope Bill’

This file photo shows the buildings of South Korea's major companies in Seoul. (Yonhap)

This file photo shows the buildings of South Korea’s major companies in Seoul. (Yonhap)

SEOUL, Feb. 20 (Korea Bizwire)A revision of the Trade Union and Labor Relations Adjustment Act, which is mainly intended to strictly restrict filing damage suits against workers on strike, has emerged as a political hot potato, as the liberal opposition parties are pushing to railroad the bill.

The controversial issue dates back to May 2009, when unionized workers of SsangYong Motor Co. staged a strike to oppose layoffs.

Five years later, the Supreme Court declared the strike illegal and ordered the workers to pay 4.7 billion won (US$3.6 million) in compensation to the company and the state.

Then civic activists delivered yellow envelopes with donations to support the SsangYong workers, raising the need to amend the trade union law in favor of striking workers.

The proposed revision has since been nicknamed the “yellow envelope bill.”

The amendment of Article 2 and 3 of the trade union act guarantees the bargaining rights of indirectly employed workers and prohibits litigation for damages and provisional seizures against unionized workers for the purpose of suppressing their strikes.

In other words, the yellow envelope bill could make it difficult for employers to file complaints against illegal strikes by their workers and exempt laborers from liability for holding illegal strikes.

It could also allow subcontractor employees to take labor actions against their original contractors.

The main opposition Democratic Party (DP), the minor opposition Justice Party and the labor community are all in the position that the yellow envelope bill is necessary to protect workers and their rights to strike.

But the government, the ruling People Power Party (PPP) and the management circles are opposed to the bill, arguing that it will only promote illegal strikes and ruin the labor-management relations and the national economy.

Indeed, the revision bill calls for expanding the scope of legal labor activities so that some of the labor moves previously considered illegal could be recognized as legal.

A meeting of the National Assembly Environment and Labor Committee's agenda subcommittee is under way in Seoul on Feb. 17, 2023, to discuss the "yellow envelope bill." (Pool photo) (Yonhap)

A meeting of the National Assembly Environment and Labor Committee’s agenda subcommittee is under way in Seoul on Feb. 17, 2023, to discuss the “yellow envelope bill.” (Pool photo) (Yonhap)

The current law defines a labor dispute as a dispute between a union and an employer over the determination of working conditions.

The revision removes the word “determination,” meaning workers can strike not only over the future working conditions but also over the current ones.

As a result, the scope of labor disputes could be expanded from wage hikes and renewal of collective agreements to the reinstatement of laid-off workers, payment of overdue wages and layoffs, for instance.

In particular, the scope of striking workers’ compensation immunity will be expanded and the scope of liability will be set individually.

The yellow envelope bill also broadens the scope of employers to include those who can actually and specifically control and decide the working conditions of workers even if they are not a party to a labor contract.

In this case, the original contractors can become the collective bargaining party of the union of subcontractor employees.

Despite the support from the DP controlling the majority of the National Assembly, the yellow envelope bill is expected to face a turbulent path ahead.

The bill is expected to be submitted to the National Assembly Environment and Labor Committee on Tuesday but may not pass through the Legislation and Judiciary Committee now headed by a PPP lawmaker.

If the bill is pending for more than 60 days in the judiciary committee, it can be directly presented to the Assembly’s plenary session.

Even if the bill is finally approved by the plenary session, however, President Yoon Suk Yeol is likely to exercise his veto power. Then the Assembly has to win more than two-thirds of attending lawmakers’ approval to pass the bill.


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