The value and dignity of labor is our own value and dignity.
Labor is noble. Black oil under the nails of the father sustains life. Dirt under the nails of the mother grows crops of hope. The Republic of Korea has come this far thanks to such hard-working people.
Every benefit of growth should also be for workers. One year ago today, I promised that the new Administration would uphold respect for labor as a key administrative priority. No growth is greater than the value and dignity of labor.
The history of Labor Day has been the history of the quest for the genuine value of labor. Overtime pay, the minimum wage and the 40-hour workweek that we now take for granted have been obtained through the struggle by many workers for their dignity.
Right after the inauguration, the new Administration started with the abolition of two controversial guidelines on general dismissals and rules of employment, which the labor sector had long waited for. It is taking steps to improve the quality of labor and reduce disparities by increasing the minimum wage and shifting non-regular workers in the public sector to regular workers. Limiting the maximum workweek to 52 hours will help give workers more leisure time.
I proposed a constitutional amendment bill that includes measures to strengthen basic labor rights with a view to institutionalizing the value of labor that should be respected in society. Geunro (勤勞; work diligently), a word adopted from the employers’ perspective during the Japanese colonial period and under the military dictatorship, has been replaced by nodong (勞動; work). The guarantee of the three basic labor rights for public officials, the imposition of equal pay for equal work and the reinforcement of the right to collective action are all important. It is truly regrettable that a referendum on the constitutional amendment cannot be held simultaneously with local elections.
However, the intent of the constitutional amendment will be upheld as much as possible by concrete policies and laws. The Government’s efforts to create a society in which labor is respected will be continued.
At the center of all the obstacles we need to overcome such as a low fertility rate, an aging society, youth unemployment and economic polarization lies the issue of labor. It is not something that can be solved by the Government’s determination alone. The only thing that will bring about fundamental changes is social dialogue that will empower everyone to make concessions and compromises.
The Trilateral Dialogue among Labor, Management and the Government was resumed after a long hiatus, and an agreement was made recently to reorganize the Economic and Social Development Commission into an economy, society and labor commission. I welcome the fact that the representativeness of the commission will be increased as its members are to be diversified to include young adults, women, non-regular workers and microbusiness owners.
Now, responsible members of labor, management and the Government should work to make significant achievements in a determination to lay a cornerstone for farsighted national policies. When labor and management come together, the Government will actively support them. When the labor sector is filled with energy and the value of labor is treated properly, the economy can continue to grow.
The value and dignity of labor is not an ideological issue. This is because we ourselves and our parents and children are the very workers. The value and dignity of labor is our own value and dignity.
In celebration of Labor Day, I dream of a world where labor is not neglected and insulted by institutions or by people in power.
May 1, 2018
President of the Republic of Korea