Send to

Business groups condemn labor union immunity bill

Nov. 13, 2023 - 16:52 By Park Han-na

Representatives from Korea's six major business groups hold a press conference at the Korea Press Center in Seoul, Monday. From left: Korea Chamber of Commerce & Industry Vice Chairman Woo Tae-hee, the Federation of Middle Market Enterprises of Korea Chairman Choi Jin-sik, Korea Enterprises Federation Chairman Sohn Kyung-shik, Korea Federation of SMEs Chairman Kim Ki-moon, Federation of Korean Industries Vice Chairman Kim Chang-beom and Korea International Trade Association Director Kim Ko-hyun.(Yonhap)

South Korea's major business lobby groups on Monday requested that President Yoon Suk Yeol exert his veto power against a pro-labor union revision bill unilaterally passed by the main opposition party last week.

The so-called Yellow Envelope bill, a revision to the Labor Union and Labor Relations Act, aims to limit companies from filing damage suits and provisional seizures against workers on strike, as well as to guarantee the bargaining rights of subcontracted workers.

Six business groups -- the Korea Enterprises Federation, the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Korea International Trade Association, the Federation of Korean Industries, the Korea Federation of SMEs and the Federation of Middle Market Enterprises of Korea -- held a press conference in Seoul to release a joint statement condemning rectification of the act.

“Although the business community has repeatedly complained that if the amendment is passed, labor-management relations will be irreparably broken and Korean companies will not be able to conduct business normally, the opposition party has ignored the opinions of the business community and jeopardized the national economy through political decisions. We strongly condemn the passage of the reform bill,” the groups said in the statement.

The majority opposition Democratic Party of Korea last Thursday passed the Yellow Envelope bill, while all of the ruling People Power Party lawmakers boycotted the vote in protest.

The groups said expanding the concept of labor disputes would destroy the industrial ecosystem between primary contractors and subcontractors.

“If a continuous labor dispute occurs against main contractors, they will cut off transactions with domestic subcontractors or move overseas, ultimately leading to those working for subcontractors losing their jobs,” the statement said.

The business groups also argued that the concept of a labor dispute is being “unreasonably” expanded. “According to the bill, the scope of collective bargaining and strikes will be greatly expanded from decisions on working conditions such as wages, working hours and welfare to advanced management decisions and cases pending trial. As a result, industrial sites will be engulfed in labor-management disputes throughout the year.”

Meanwhile, the country’s two umbrella union groups -- the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions and the Federation of Korean Trade Unions -- urged the president to swiftly promulgate the bill.

“While the bill was only being discussed in the National Assembly, too many workers died or had to go through extreme struggles,” the unions said in a joint statement during a press conference in front of the presidential office in Yongsan.

The unions asserted that the president exercising his veto power against the bill would be “an act of ignoring the Constitution,” noting that such power should be exerted in situations where a bill is unconstitutional or unenforceable.

“The president's veto of the revised labor union law would mean he is defending the irresponsibility of the conglomerates and will not give non-regular workers the right to speak.”

The Yellow Envelope bill was initially proposed in 2015 but was abolished in the 19th and 20th National Assemblies due to opposition from the business community.

Controversy reignited last year after Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering filed a lawsuit for 47 billion won ($35.5 million) in damages from subcontracted workers. When subcontracted workers occupied the company’s shipyard in Geoje and went on a 51-day strike, the firm filed a lawsuit for damages.

According to a survey conducted by the Ministry of Employment and Labor last year on damages and provisional seizure lawsuits filed against labor unions, executives and union members, a total of 151 damages lawsuits worth 275.2 billion won were filed between 2009 and August 2022.