Rights watchdog calls for tougher rules on layoffs
Published : 2013-02-25 19:59
Updated : 2013-02-25 19:59
The human rights watchdog said Monday it has advised the parliament and the labor ministry to revise labor laws to tighten standards for layoffs in light of workers’ suffering caused by dismissals and the subsequent social disturbances.
In its recommendation recently presented to the National Assembly speaker and the Ministry of Labor and Employment, the National Human Rights Commission called for clarifying rules on layoff conditions to prevent employers from firing their workers discretionally, according to its officials.
Under the Labor Standards Act, employers are allowed to lay off their employees “out of urgent necessity in management terms,” which critics say can be interpreted as allowing firms to reduce their workforce to guard against “a possible future crisis.”
“The clause has often served as a loophole,” said a watchdog official. “So we need to make it say more specifically that the firms can exert the authority ‘out of urgent necessity in management terms where they cannot continue their business due to deteriorating circumstances.’”
The law should also include detailed measures to avoid layoffs that must be undertaken by management such as the reduction in working hours and reshuffles, according to the recommendations.
The watchdog also called on the labor ministry to come up with detailed guidelines for a dismissal by reflecting the stances of both management and labor, and to extend measures to strengthen the social safety net to protect the rights of both sides.
“We’ve seen a series of labor disputes caused by massive layoffs in recent years which have escalated into serious social problems. Revision of relevant law and devising appropriate measures are necessary to prevent the recurrence of disastrous incidents,” the official added.
A case in point is Ssangyong Motor Co., South Korea’s smallest automaker, which put thousands of employees out of work in 2009 after the company went into court receivership in the aftermath of the 2008 global financial downturn. Some 1,900 employees chose to retire, 159 were dismissed and 455 were forced to take unpaid leave.
During the 77-day strike sparked by the layoffs at its factory in Pyeongtaek, some 70 kilometers south of Seoul, some 24 workers and their family members died either by committing suicide or from illness.
Amid a recent political move to investigate the company, the Ssangyong management agreed with its union to reinstate the 455 workers on unpaid leave last month. (Yonhap News)