Home > Labour > Labor Unions’ Arduous Struggle over the “Time-Off” System

Labor Unions’ Arduous Struggle over the “Time-Off” System

July 25, 2010

By Myungsun Kim

The Labor unions’ struggle with the government and management over the controversial ‘time-off’ system drags on, but with diminishing enthusiasm on the unions’ part the number of business organizations that recognize the new system has increased. The unions’ last resort, the general strike of the Korean Metal Workers’ Union (KMWU) held on Jul 26 turned out to be a failure.

Labor unions started a head-on clash with the government and management after the ‘time-off’ rule took its effect on July 1. The ‘time-off’ rule limits the number of full-time union members at local companies to a maximum of 24, depending on the size of the company’s workforce and the size of the labor union. Union groups argue that the significant cut in the number of full-time union workers will heavily restrict rightful labor activities by weakening workers’ bargaining power and labor movement.

To protest the ‘time-off’ system, unions at several business organizations affiliated with the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) began staging walkouts in late June, even before the rule took effect. The general strike of the KMWU, the biggest industrial fraction of the KCTU, was supposed to be the most critical blow to the government, with more than 100,000 expected participants, but in reality only 5,000 took part in the strike. Especially disappointing to the KMWU was the decision of its biggest affiliate, the Kia-motor union, who sent only 500 union members out of its 34,000 members to the strike scene.

According to the Ministry of Labor’s statistics issued on Jul 16, out of 1,320 workplaces that have more than one hundred unionists, 682 workplaces (51.7%) have reached a tentative agreement on operating within some confines of the time-off rule or renewed their collective agreement under the new measure. Compared to the 362 workplaces on Jul 4, the number of workplaces partially or fully adopting the ‘time-off’ rule has more than doubled in the last twelve days.

Labor Unions including the KCTU demand to immediately discard the “time-off manual,” the government-issued guideline for the specific and practical implementation of the new system. The manual will be used by labor supervisors to instruct or supervise business places.

The manual instructs the users to cancel the existing wage payments to all former unionists, except for the appointed people on the exemption list. Unions and the users decide on the total number of the people to be on the exemption list, and must announce the confirmed list to the users beforehand. However, labor unions criticize that the time-off manual puts excessive restriction on the number of unionists and target businesses by creating the legally ungrounded exemption list.

Tae-young Kim, a vice branch manager of the Kia-motor union, said in the interview with the internet news media Ohmynews on July 14 that “Unilaterally deciding on the unpaid leave of absence for the former unionists who were forced out of the union without negotiations with unions violates the management’s business manual.”

He also pointed out the inherent problem in the system itself, saying “In other countries where the time-off system is implemented to lower the limit for the minimum number of the former unionists, and do not, like South Korea, impose the upper limit that allows a certain number of unionists.”

According to the Internet News media, Nocutnews.com, Jurists’ Organizations including Lawyers for a Democratic Society (MINBYUN), Gathering of the Certified Labor Lawyers for realization of the Labor Human Rights, and Democratic Legal Studies Association (DELSA), had a press conference at Seoul Gwanghwameun square in the morning of Jul 20 and insisted that, “the present labor law concerning the full-time union workers seriously violates the principle of autonomy in labor management. The National Assembly and government should immediately revise it.”

They also said, “The time-off scheme and its manual violate the fundamental elements of the labor’s three primary rights, while deepening the conflicts between managements and unions,” emphasizing that the “[time-off rule] must be immediately nullified.”

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Categories: Labour
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