Monday, March 27, 2006

Spring Labour Struggle

An update from Koilaf on some upcoming labour issues.

Labor unions have threatened to launch an all-out struggle against the government and management next month over thorny labor issues, including an irregular workers bill and wage hikes.

The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) intends to call a general strike next week attempting to block the passage of the controversial bill during a plenary session at the National Assembly.

The country’s largest umbrella labor group, representing more than 800,000 workers, staged large-scale rallies earlier this month after the bill was approved by the Assembly’s environment and labor committee.

Relations between government, management and labor are expected to worsen further as rail and subway workers have also vowed to strike again unless management accepts their demands for better working conditions and greater labor rights.

Public transport workers staged a four-day walkout earlier this month, disrupting the nation’s transportation services, and causing public inconvenience. They returned to work, yielding to negative public sentiment and a tough police crackdown.

The unions are also drifting toward a head-on clash with management, over demands for wage rises and negotiations on reinstatement of dismissed union representatives.


The KCTU is expected to begin a 10-day strike on April 3, to urge the Assembly not to pass the non-regular workers bill, which it claims would increase the number of temporary workers.

They have also called on the government to revise its labor policy to be more worker-friendly and stop its Free Trade Agreement (FTA) negotiations with the United States. They argue an FTA with the U.S. would further aggravate the plight of farmers and irregular workers.

The Korea Rail Workers Union has also decided to, again, take collective action, saying the state-run Korea Railroad (Korail) has been indifferent to their demands, including reinstating fired workers and converting attendants of the Korea Train Express into regular workers.

The strike by unionized Korail workers is feared to disrupt passenger and freight services across the country for another time, forcing people to find alternative transport and causing financial loss to rail-reliant companies.

Also, shuttle bus workers in Seoul and Kyonggi Province plan to strike next month as they have failed to reach an agreement with management over wage increase.

Business organizations and labor unions are on collision course as they differ widely over various contentious labor issues.

The Korea Employers Federation (KEF) has asked its member companies not to pay labor union leaders from next year.

Employers have so far paid union leaders’ salaries but, under a new law, they will be ineligible for wages from their companies from 2007.

The KEF has also said it would not allow the unions a say in management, and it is solely up to management whether to hire, and how many non-regular workers they want to hire.

But the KCTU and another umbrella labor group, the Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU), said they would stage an all-out struggle against employers, saying management’s stance on labor is unacceptable.

Management and labor also widely differ over wage hikes this year.

The KEF suggested employers raise wages by about 2.6 percent, a sharp contrast to the 9.6 percent hike demanded by the FKTU.

The employers’ organization even asked companies, suffering from the appreciation of the Korean won against the U.S. dollar, and high oil prices, to freeze wages this year.

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