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 14: Works councils in Korea: History, performance and assessment

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.

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