Monday, January 30, 2006

bye bye kim tae hwan

An article appeared in today's Korea Herald titled "Outgoing labour minister a hit with business" that takes a brief look at Kim tae-hwan's career. From the title you can see that he was certainly popular with some. It seems he has been tough on the labour movement, even though he was previously an advisor to it. Seems also that he has done a lot to weaken the benefits enjoyed by regular workers while trying to do something to protect, yet expand, non-regular forms of work. The article points out that this is in tune with an OECD report calling for the government to ease employment protection for regular workers and to provide a social safety net for non regular workers. The OECD report, however, seems more suited to the interests of Transnational Corporations, or domestic chaebol, that aren't too interested in providing high wages or long term benefits for their workers.

The article also seems to think it is a good thing to have set about creating a strict neoliberal labour market, by punishing political strikes by unions and intervening in others. What the article, and perhaps Kim, seem to ignore, however, is the fact that a flexible labour market is perhaps not a particularly desirable outcome for all if by flexibility we mean the enhanced right to hire and fire workers on a whim, or deny them benefits (see article below for some of the criticisms of flexibilization in Korea). Especially in a country without a strong social safety net. The government does deserve some marks in attempting to expand one, it is true, but this comes as a bandaid measure to ease some of the social conflict its labour market already generates and will generate in the future if such forms of job insecurity continue to proliferate. Concepts like flexibilty may sound desirable, as indeed certain forms of job-task and production flexibilty are, but the neoliberal meaning of the word above is not the kind of flexibilty that invests in workers skills or capacities, instead it is the type of flexibity which offers to pay workers less for the jobs they are already doing.

The unions have been pursuing a militant fight against the upcoming labour reform bills however they are also enduring some internal strife of their own. Kotaji has a few recent posts about how this has affected the democratic labour party internal elections, the results, and their aftermath that are worthy to read. Hopeful the labour movement will continue to rebuild and rejuvinate, and perhaps with a more sensitive labour minister for whom expanding precarious and irregular forms of works do not appear as inevitable, or even, necessarily desirable.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting post. I was in North Korea in October 2005 for a week (tourist) and peaceful reunifiction was very much a topic there too; at least they mentioned it to us a few times a day. It's hard to know if there is any variation in opinion since as a visitor you tend to get one consistent line on any remotely political question.

    Also they allowed thousands of South Koreans in for one-night trips to see the Mass Games (Arirang). There were so many coming in October that we had to move to the Koryo Hotel in the city centre as the Yanggakdo Hotel (40+ floors?)was full of S Koreans one night. I think the S Koreans were only allowed to stay in the Yanggakdo, which is on an island in the river, well isolated from passing N Koreans. One nation, yes, but individual chatting not allowed just yet.