The Evolution of Korean Industrial and Employment Relations
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The Evolution of Korean Industrial and Employment Relations

Edited by Young-Myon Lee and Bruce E. Kaufman

The Evolution of Korean Industrial and Employment Relations explores current employment and workplace relations practice in South Korea, tracing their origins to key historical events and giving cultural, politico-economic and global context to the inevitable cultural adaptation in one of Asia’s ‘miraculous’ democracies.
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Chapter 3: The Korea Employers’ Federation and the development of Korean industrial relations

In Jun, Peter Sheldon and Kang-Sung Lee


This chapter explains how and why chaebols founded Korea’s first national employer association, the Korea Employers Federation (KEF) in 1970, despite facing little threat from unions or pro-employee government intervention. It then explores the KEF’s changing roles in responding to chaebols’ expectations up to 2010. As chaebols grew and moved into new industries, their main industrial relations interests were maintaining low labour costs and unimpeded workplace control. In this, they had government support until Korea’s democratization in 1987. Needing little collective leadership, they instead sought increasing technical expertise from KEF staff. With democratization, chaebols received much less government support. Industrial relations now included independent unionism and militancy, rising wages, and legislative support for collective bargaining and individual employee rights. Chaebols now wanted KEF representation, which became significant for lobbying governments, negotiating with peak unions and within the Tripartite Commission. Nonetheless, its lack of authority over chaebols limited its strategies.

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