Post-election laborer suicides

Since the election of Park Geun-hye, three labor activists and a unification activist have committed suicide. Another labor activist died while attending the binso of one of the laborers who took his own life.

You won’t find much in English on the suicides outside of this Kyunghyang piece (and this one).

Moon Jae-in visited the binso of one of the dead laborers yesterday to offer condolences and words of support.

A reader suggested I post about this, so I have. Not sure exactly what to say about it, though. Even leaving aside the fact that three of the suicides were officials in unions affiliated with the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions—of which I’m not a huge fan—and the other was a member of the this group, I don’t really want to turn people taking their own lives out of dissatisfaction with the results of a democratic election into heroes.

That said, while there’s nothing the Park administration could ever do to win the support of the likes of the KCTU, there are things it could do to improve industrial morale. The Kyunghyang ran an editorial on the deaths, calling on the government to do something about companies suing unions over strikes. In the case of Hanjin Heavy Industries, the company dropped its suits against individual unionists, but still has a 15.8 billion won suit against the union itself. This despite the fact that the company agreed to drop its lawsuits when it reached an agreement with its union in November.

The mood at Hanjin has reportedly been quite dour even after the November agreement, in which the company withdrew its mass layoffs. The fact that the company seems to be moving its operations overseas might have something to do with it:

Another reinstated worker said, “After Hanjin constructed a shipyard in Subic Bay, Philippines in 2006, they have hardly obtained any orders for their Yeongdo shipyard even though the shipbuilding industry was prosperous. In 2010, they separated the design unit of the shipyard, which is its core unit.

All the reinstated workers feel that the company has no intention to operate the Yeongdo shipyard.” He continued, “The company has not acknowledged the apparent failures of management, and instead have blamed the workers claiming that the labor disputes have made it difficult to win orders. We expected for a better relationship with management when we were reinstated, but they’re neglecting the basics such as issuing ID cards and leaving us out in the cold.”

One of the more critical labor issues is the use—in some cases, illegally—of irregular workers and inhouse contractors, such as at Hyundai. The problem here, though, is that not only do the companies unenthusiastic about changing their hiring practices, the regular unions don’t seem particularly keen to help out irregular workers, either. And how you resolve this without scaring companies into moving their operations overseas, I don’t know.

President-elect Park apparently laid down the law during her meeting with major business heads yesterday (see English here), asking companies not to lay off workers. This reportedly even impressed the French. This was something I sort of expected—one of the first things her old man did after taking power was arrest 24 of Korea’s top businessmen just to let them know who was boss. Whether that sort of intimidation works as well in the globalized market of the 21st century, though, has yet to be seen.

  • SalarymaninSeoul

    There are very few things in this world I hate more than labor unions. One of those things would be labor unions that are also North Korean fifth columnists. I am fighting an urge to be extremely insensitive about these 3 suicides so I won’t say more about them.

    But asking companies not to lay off workers? Why? Ive heard this argument taken to its natural conclusion: “lay-offs are murder” and naturally, the companies are akin to murderers who should be imprisoned for taking away what people are entitled to, a sort of human right: jobs. The most tragic thing that these unions don’t realize is that they are one of the causes for many of these companies going into the shitter. These people shit in their own beds and wonder why it stinks.Lastly, I think law suits against unions are a grand idea. Hopefully this will be a rising trend going into the future, not just in Korea.

    I have no problem with people coming together voluntarily to form a united front against a company. The problem I have is with these unions having government mandated monpoly on jobs so that what you saw at Hyundai is illegal. Ultimately, companies should have the right to hire and fire at will.

  • SalarymaninSeoul

    “But let’s not die. Even if we do die, let’s die fighting. Let’s force hope if we have to.”
    “They announced their plans for a general strike in January next year demanding President Lee Myung-bak and president-elect Park Geun-hye to put an end to labor repression by suspending the temporary seizures of property for damage claims, etc.”

    So what they want to do is to be able to destroy and damage as much propery as possible but being sued over it becomes “labor oppression.”

    “All the workers wanted through a change of government was the right to work and not die, the right to earn as much as they worked, and a society which understands the common knowledge that workers should be able to take part in union activities without being assaulted.”

    There isb a flipside they don’t get, and that is that while they should not be assaulted, often it is these “people” doing the assaulting and destroying. But they want the right to destroy at will. “Right to earn as much as they worked”, well, there is no right to earn any amount, the wage should be settled by the market.

  • Jakgani

    damn…   I clicked on the 

     one of the first things her old man did after taking power was arrest 24 of Korea’s top businessmen just to let them know who was boss.  

    link – and I haven’t stopped reading.

    I am now up to the “Terrorism: The Root Causes  By David Meir-Levi” 
    article – interesting stuff!

  • babotaengi

    ‘So what they want to do is to be able to destroy and damage as much propery as possible but being sued over it becomes “labor oppression.”‘

    Either you don’t know what a damage claim is or you should read the statement again.

  • SalarymaninSeoul

    Explain it, then. Damages over lost business was mentioned. Certainly there should be suits over damaged property. In fact the companies should sue the unions into oblivion.

  • mightymouse

    Excuse me? Lawsuit by companies against labor unions for obstructing business? I’m not sure I agree with such lawsuits. It’s like saying you have a right to strike but then you have to pay for damages. As to the suicides…. come on can’t they take losing elections.

  • Cm

    Let’s see. Korean labor unions, what do I think about them?  Take Detroit’s auto unions and multiply the idiocy by a hundred times, that’s what militant Korean labor unions are.  As for those three who committed suicide because the wrong party won the election, what a waste of lives over a silly temper tantrum.  Nobody will even notice them gone, other then the other liberal radicals.  If they still think the 1970’s martyrdom will bring out the revolution, then they’re sadly mistaking.  It’s because Korean labor unions that full time jobs are scarce.  Companies are scared and intimidated by archaic labor laws into not hiring full time workers.   The easiest cop out for them is to just hire temporary workers and not have to put up with labor unions, or just take the jobs overseas.  Agreed with Salaryman, companies should be able to fire and hire as they feel they need.  That’s the true free market system that the do gooders are deadly against.

  • SalarymaninSeoul

    Yes, sue them. If they are simply away from work, then it should be up to the company: A) fire the lot of them, B) keep them. Certainly they should be held to their contracts and contracts should spell out penalties for not fulfilling their obligations. In cases where unions organize to block the place of work, prevent replacement workers from taking up the slack (oh those vilified “scabs”), destroy property or make it impossible to use property required in the operations of a business, they should sue the unions into oblivion. Saying someone has the right to protest does not mean they have that right in a vacuum without obligations. Its a trade off. Your right is NOT unconditional. A right to strike does not entrail a right to violate the rights of others, such as property rights of companies.

  • SomeguyinKorea

    Or, are unions the pretext corporations are looking for to move production overseas where they can pay their employees a few dollars a day and don’t have to bothered with such petty things such as pollution and environmental impact?

  • SalarymaninSeoul

    Why would any company need a pretext to move operations where it is cheaper? I don’t see the need. Not pretext but maybe one of the reasons.

  • RElgin

    Opportunity is always found in the imaginative mind and the imagination is the only means by which we can truly live. Their fault is that they ran out of the imagination needed to live.

  • SalarymaninSeoul

    That’s 3 less guys at the next Molotov cocktail throwing get-together. Or, as the left like to call it, “peaceful protest.”

  • Creo69

    “I don’t really want to turn people taking their own lives out of dissatisfaction with the results of a democratic election into heroes.”

    Exactly how does one turn a “fool” into a “hero?”