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The Peninsula

New Consultative Labor Committee Reflects the Severity of the Crisis

Published May 19, 2020

This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.

What Happened

  • In April, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun accepted the suggestion from the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) to form a new consultative organization that better highlights union voices.
  • On May 1, President Moon signaled his support for the inclusion of labor unions in this body by underscoring the importance of solidarity with the labor community on social media.
  • On May 11, the Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU) agreed to participate in the consultative process. This will be the first time in 21 years that both KCTU and FKTU would be represented in the same committee.

Implications: The Moon administration’s proactive effort to include labor unions as stakeholders in public policy reflects the government’s outlook on the severity of the economic challenges ahead. Notably, the Korean government took unprecedented action to reconcile the FKTU and the KCTU, creating the basis for their joint participation in the consultative committee. Public dialogue emphasized that the active participation of these key stakeholders is necessary to implement drastic and tangible changes to the labor market as part of President Moon’s so-called “Korean New Deal.” In addition, the urgency reflects the administration’s view that the post-COVID headwinds are not navigable without unity in purpose among these various institutions.

Context: KCTU and FKTU have long maintained different political positions. Because the KCTU had been absent from the Korea Tripartite Commission in 1998, the relatively-moderate FKTU represented labor’s position in the public policy discussions. During the Park Geun-hye administration, relations between the FKTU and the government was damaged after the government implemented reforms despite strong opposition from the union. As a consequence, there had been little dialogue between labor and the Blue House until the start of the Moon administration.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Gordon Henning, Soojin Hwang, Hyungim Jang, and Ingyeong Park.

Picture from flickr user odius kim

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