The Korea Employers Federation and the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry expressed to the Economic, Social and Labor Council their opposition to the complete ratification of the Core Conventions of the International Labor Organization. Korea has put aside the ratification of four out of the eight conventions – Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize Convention, Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining Convention, Forced Labor Convention and Abolition of Forced Labor Convention. If even displaced workers are allowed to establish or join a labor union, the power of unions will only increase and become politicized, which can deteriorate industrial competitiveness, according to business owners.
Ratifying the ILO Core Conventions was part of South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s pledges. Unions also has called on the facilitation of the ratification process. They argue that only Korea and the United States, among the OECD member states, have not ratified two conventions regarding union membership. Korea is the only one that has not ratified any convention related to forced labor, according to them. However, many countries have selectively ratified the core conventions according to their national realities including New Zealand and Japan with freedom of association and abolition of forced labor, respectively, left unratified. The same goes with Australia, Mexico and Canada.
It takes seriousness and consideration to proceed with the ratification process of the ILO conventions given that they take effect once ratified. Legal and institutional preconditions have to be geared up before the conventions are ratified. If that is not the case, it will only increase Korea’s risk of being sanctioned by the ILO. First of all, the ILO’s conventions run counter to the relevant Korean laws. The applicable law in Korea bans public official in a chief official position or above from joining a union while the ILO conventions don’t put any relevant limit. That is why the Korean Teachers and Education Workers' Union is classified as an outsider union as it allows displaced teachers to join membership. Social confusion will rise inevitably if public good service members are considered under forced labor according to ILO standards.
What matters is to see the legitimacy of boosting the strength of unions at the moment. Those in unions who have influence wield their power, go on strike regardless of their business circumstances, and even pull the strings behind hiring. The Trade Union Act, designed so abnormally that alternative labor is banned even during strikes, has buttressed the power of unions. The right to operation and defense is as important as the right to go on strike. Collective conventions are carried out every three to five years in the United States and Japan while they are done every two years in Korea. Before talking about the ratification of the ILO conventions, we should listen to the voices of the business circle maintaining that the right balance be stricken between labor and management.