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Edited by Neil Longley
Bruce E. Kaufman and Young-Myon Lee
This chapter explains the history, performance, and assessment of works councils in Korea. Works councils were mandated by law in 1963 as an instrument of the government to evade militant unions. Currently, all private-sector business organizations with at least 30 workers must operate a works council. The consequences of works councils in Korea is yet undetermined. Labor unions in Korea have consistently criticized works councils as being puppets of employers. But survey-based analysis demonstrates that works councils play a pseudo wage bargaining role similar to the role played by unions in collective bargaining, despite not having the legal right to do so. Researchers have shown that works councils are a complement, not substitute for labor unions. Considering the decades-old downward trend in union density and a negative shift in workers’ attitudes towards collective representation, works councils may work to represent workers’ interests in the increasing number of non-union workplaces in Korea.
This chapter details the legal framework, precedents and judicial direction of worker rights and enforcement in Korea. Korean labor and union law was established in 1953, and the labor law system covers three distinct areas: the contractual relationship between individual workers and employers; the process and rights for organizing and dissolving labor unions and their operating principles; and the legal system related to the operation of labor-management councils within the workplace. Despite a strong legal framework in many dimensions such as dismissal protections, worker rights are eroded through restrictions on industrial action, cultural practice, lack of enforcement, and the inconsistency and capriciousness of judicial rulings.
Heiwon Kwon and Virginia L. Doellgast
This chapter assesses the degree of gender inequality in Korea based on available statistics concerning gender employment and wage gaps. Gender inequality has persisted and has become durable over the last decade. Although women’s economic activity and labor force participation have increased, the gender gap remains strikingly wide in terms of both the employment rate and wages. This is due to three factors. First, Korea’s long-working-hours culture and breadwinner ideology unduly burden women with caregiving, an unsustainable role for the employed. Second, women are concentrated in low-wage, insecure, contingent employment with low protection and no representation as a result of labor flexibilization policies from the 1990s. Finally, the feminization of part-time low-quality work will continue to hinder women’s full integration into the labor market. We conclude with a discussion of the implication of our findings for policies that seek to better integrate work and family lives.
Young-Myon Lee and Bruce E. Kaufman
In order to contextualize Korean employment and industrial relations (EIR) in the field of EIR thought, a field largely dominated by Western ideas and experience, this chapter breaks down Korean EIR into its component parts using two particular frameworks: a union/labor management model and an employment relationship model. This structured approach brings to the fore often overlooked facts regarding Korean institutions, collective actors, socio-economic and political forces that have shaped its employment relations and industrial environment – namely, the preponderance of small to medium-sized enterprises, the highly politicized evolution of unions and employer associations and their connection to the besieged and suffering ‘haan’ mentality, the movement away from Confucian-system paternal relations and the preference for strong, centralized leadership. The chapter highlights key events that have driven a narrow labor/management bias in Korean EIR, especially the Great Labor Offensive, and examines the whole through Kaufman’s employment relations model.
Kyoung Won Park
This chapter briefly describes the evolution of strike activities as an archetype of union militancy from 1980 to 2016. Strike criteria are not uniform across countries, leading to misleading country-by-country comparisons. Overall, strikes have declined steeply in number since their peak in the 1980s, averaging around 100 per year since 2007. Analyzing the number of strikes by establishment size suggests that unions organized at larger establishments can go on strike to win higher wages, while unions at small or medium-sized establishments cannot achieve the same result under such adverse circumstances. Recent statistics on cases of mediation, adjudication and administrative litigation attest that fewer strikes do not mean a decline in industrial conflicts in the workplace. In terms of wages, data suggests that Korean labor unions’ bargaining power to extract economic rents from employers has declined and their ability to threaten or actualize the use of strikes has become ineffective.
Social dialogue in Korea has been shaped by its structural weaknesses for the past two decades, namely within a government-led ‘mobilized social dialogue’ model around the Tripartite Commission. The context is unfavorable to social dialogue and compromise: low union density and employer association organization rate, and loose integration between labor and management organizations. Partisan politics are strong, potentially weakening public sympathy. Moreover, enterprise-level bargaining and industrial relations are the norm, with supra-enterprise-level negotiations the closest thing to absent national-level negotiations. Despite notable exceptions, the social dialogue system itself has a high level of institutionalization, is state-led, and in many ways unrepresentative. In particular, the heavy-handedness of the government in social dialogue is an obstacle to sustainable progress. A great leap to an autonomous social dialogue model based on equal partnership will allow Korea to face the huge transformations ahead in its political, economic and social development.