FW: (korea) Korea Letter Wed Jun 3 (fwd)

1998-06-03

Carolyn Ballard


-----Original Message-----
From:   David Smith [SMTP:•••@••.•••]
Sent:   Wednesday, June 03, 1998 2:17 AM
To:     WORLD SYSTEMS NETWORK
Subject:        (korea) Korea Letter Wed Jun 3 (fwd)


Thought the following article, excerpted from a thing called KOREA LETTER
(it takes reports from Seoul newspapers, the one that follows is from the
English-language daily, THE KOREA HERALD), might be of interest.  It
illustrates the "wonders" of "globalization"! 

David A. Smith
Sociology, UC-Irvine

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 02 Jun 1998 06:38:32 -0600
From: The Korea Letter <•••@••.•••>
Reply-To: •••@••.•••
To: •••@••.•••
Subject: (korea) Korea Letter Wed Jun 3

THE KOREA LETTER

Thursday, Jun 3, 1998 KST
----------------------------

Reports copyrighted by publishing organizations.

ENGLISH PRESS REPORTS

....

KOREA HERALD

....

 Average Koreans Sympathize with Trade Union Struggling for More Equality 
By John Sullivan Staff reporter 

The Korean government may have good reasons for castigating its labor
unions. While trying to improve Korea's image through social stability and
flexibility in its labor market, the government has been continuously
hounded by KCTU-led strikes that have caused foreign ratings agencies to
downgrade credit levels, and caused millions of won in lost foreign
investment. But what the government may fail to recognize is the point of
view of the KCTU (Korean Confederation of Trade Unions). 

``I never thought about joining a trade union, but now I am considering
it,'' says an architect who asked to be identified by only his last name,
Kim. In his company, all the employees were told to sign new contracts that
allowed the company to make laying them off easier. Twenty-three employees
were then asked to resign. 

Though the new labor laws stipulate businesses set up proper standards for
layoffs, as well as taking ``every possible means'' to avoid them, social
inequalities in the Korean workplace and society often make it difficult to
resort to legal means in the case of abuse. 

Employers often demand resignations from their workers, and offer them
severance payments much less than what they were expecting. If the employee
chooses to challenge the resignation, then he must wait two months before
an arbitration board decides whether or not the layoff is illegal. 

Because Korea has a much less legalistic culture than western countries,
many workers shun legal remedies as the first method of resolving a
conflict. Instead, the two parties involved settle on a remedy through
negotiations among themselves. In most cases, the terms of resignation are
usually negotiated and departure from the firm relatively nonproblematic,
but abuses do exist. 

In one securities company, workers informed they would be laid off were
forced to remain in a separate room away from other workers. The regular
employees were then assigned to monitor them on a regular basis. 

``If you got laid off,'' says Kim, ``they would take your I.D. away so you
can't use the computers. And if the employee chooses to take the case to
court, there is the fear that the process will be long and costly.'' 

Corporate culture in Korea is sometimes rigidly hierarchical with workers
in lower positions having very little power. An employee at a securities
firm in Yoido said that when his company tried to start up a trade union 10
years ago, the company put up strong resistance. When new people were hired
the company would warn them that joining the unions would be unbeneficial. 

``Eventually the union disappeared,'' he said. 

These undocumented but very real social realities are behind KCTU's
resistance to unilateral economic reforms by the government. Addressing
social inequalities during the process of economic restructuring, they
argue, are as vital to maintaining a stable society as labor restraint. 

The divide in perception between business and government on one side and
the KCTU on the other is marked by the government's breach of promises to
protect worker's rights. 

``There is a big problem with confidence in the government,'' says Yoon
Young-mo, international secretary for the KCTU. Apart from stalling on many
of the corporate reforms government promised, many businesses are abusing
the layoff laws, he says. 

The organization already claims to have an expansive list of abuses in
which severance payments were denied and companies unilaterally laid off
hundreds of thousands of employees without worker consultation guaranteed
by the law. 

The trade unions also point to consistent government waffling on the issue
of mass layoffs. 

Despite President Kim Dae-jung's promise to the KCTU that he would ensure
POSCO fulfill its obligation to protect workers when it took over Sammi
Steel, 300 to 400 Sammi workers were laid off, Yoon points out. 

Social statistics also show that human suffering caused by economic
restructuring is increasingly dramatic. In a recent report by a daily
newspaper, the Hankyoreh Shinmun, suicides were reported to be almost twice
that of traffic accident deaths between last December and March. About 43.1
percent of all the suicide victims, it said, were people who lost jobs,
failed businesses, or suffered from psychological duress caused by Korea's
economic crisis. When the unquantifiable effects of social inequalities and
mass layoffs become countable, they argue, it may be too late. 

Though the public generally supports the KCTU's fight for equality in the
workplace, many feel that their demands must wait. Scaring off foreign
investors by creating social instability through labor strikes is
unrealistic, say most observers. It may also destroy the very goals the
trade unions seek: job security. Inequalities will have to be addressed,
but only after the economy has been stabilized, they say. 





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