Today is the day we have been very much looking forward to. I am very pleased that the Economic, Social and Labor Council has finally been launched. There have been many discussions and difficulties leading up to its inauguration. I am deeply grateful to Chairman Moon Sung-hyun for his persistent leadership in making its launch possible and to the labor and management representatives for deciding to take part in the Council.
I have taken every opportunity to emphasize the truly urgent need to restore social dialogue and reach a grand compromise. Labor-management relations will be vital to addressing not only such pending labor issues as the looming employment crisis, non-regular workers, shorter working hours and basic labor rights but also the restructuring of flagship industries. Economic players should reach a broad agreement on how to help overcome structural problems as well, including low growth, jobless growth, socio-economic divides and economic inequality as well as the low birth rate and aging population.
We are now transforming our economic and social structures at their roots in order to move toward becoming an inclusive nation where everyone prospers together. We are pursuing the following goals: a people-centered economy, a society that respects labor, inclusive growth, an inclusive society, innovative growth and a fair economy. These goals cannot be achieved through government endeavors alone. Only when all economic agents harness ideas and hammer out a social agreement through concessions and compromise will the goals be accomplished.
Historically, a grand social compromise has led to great economic and social transitions in a country. The Hartz reforms of Germany and the Wassenaar Agreement of the Netherlands made it possible for them to surmount the crises of low growth and high unemployment, laying the groundwork for economic resurgence and an efficient welfare state. We have a similar experience with the establishment of the Tripartite Commission 20 years ago when we came together to overcome the foreign exchange crisis, which necessitated an IMF bailout.
My Administration and I have a steadfast stance that labor and management are partners in the running of state affairs. We have a relationship of cooperation, not confrontation. Labor, management and the government should work together to create an inclusive nation that can revive the economy and resolve the problems of the socio-economic divide and unemployment.
We all are the key drivers of reform. We should seek reasonable alternatives through dialogue, compromise, concessions and the sharing of burdens instead of engaging in struggles to force through our individual demands. These times call for economic stakeholders, as responsible members of society, to take up this cause.
The newly launched Economic, Social and Labor Council should now play a central role. The public’s long anticipation and high expectations are being directed to the Council. Let us continue to work together so that the Republic of Korea’s fundamental economic and social transformation can bring hope to the people.
Timed with the launch of the Council, I would like to make several requests:
First, it is necessary to make clear that labor and management are the main stakeholders in social dialogue. In the past, some criticized the government for manipulating the Tripartite Commission to justify its policies. In the case of the newly launched Council, however, efforts will be made to ensure that the main emphasis is on autonomous dialogue and compromise between labor and management during the whole process, including the selection of agenda items, discussion methods and the drawing of conclusions. As an impartial arbitrator, the Government will focus on helping the two sides narrow differences in their opinions and providing support for the implementation of policies.
Still, I ask the two parties to take responsibility commensurate with their status as principal entities bringing change to economic and social issues. More than anything else, continued participation in social dialogue is crucial. Once the necessity of social dialogue is recognized, solutions have to be sought through dialogue within an institutional framework.
In this regard, I find the absence of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions today to be regrettable. In the course of discussions among the representatives of labor, management and government, the KCTU has shown its commitment to and sincerity for social dialogue. I hope that the KCTU will be able to participate in the dialogue at the earliest possible date so that the Council can bring about significant changes by embracing social consensus. Its participation will serve as a significant boost to the labor sector.
Second, I urge all economic entities to share the burden in order to achieve social and national goals together. Without concessions and compromise, it is impossible to take even one step forward. If one party were unilaterally forced to make sacrifices, it would make it difficult to reach a compromise and implement agreements. We need a mature attitude; each party needs to seek a middle ground through dialogue, trying to understand others from their perspectives and take responsibility together for the consequences.
Recently, there have been many exemplary cases where mutual benefits and solidarity were achieved through concessions and compromise. In the public sector and financial industry, labor and management jointly established funds to create job opportunities and provide assistance to low-wage workers. There are also cases of mutually beneficial cooperation between large companies and small and medium-sized enterprises: employees at large businesses contributing some portion of their salaries and their employers providing matching funds to support subcontractors. Some businesses were able to employ more workers by reorganizing shifts and reducing working hours through labor-management agreements as an alternative to wage hikes.
A new Gwangju jobs program [designed to create reasonably paid jobs through joint public and private initiatives] has hit a stumbling block in the last phase of negotiations. It is a mutually beneficial job creation model based on social compromise to increase employment, boost businesses’ competitiveness and develop local economies. It can be a new breakthrough for our economy, which has fallen into an employment crisis. I expect that it will assuredly succeed through generous concessions and burden sharing. Once agreements have been reached, the Government will not spare any necessary support.
Third, I hope that the Council will be managed with an open mind so that opinions of a wide variety of people can be reflected. The Council has come to be a Korean social dialogue body worthy of its name by allowing representation from those who have been marginalized such as young adults, women, non-regular workers, small and medium-sized enterprises, middle-market companies and microbusiness owners. I ask for your active support to help bring more impetus to the Agenda, Industry and Social Class committees as well as the Special Committee, all of which are under the Council so that meaningful results can be produced in those different areas.
There is much to do. Numerous labor-related issues are pending such as improving the social safety net, upgrading laws to advance labor-management relations, enhancing industrial safety to create a safe working environment, and facilitating the transition to the digital era as well as the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the future of labor. Our long-term visions, including National Pension reform and the guarantee of post-retirement income, should also be discussed and settled. I do not believe that the current Administration alone is capable of accomplishing all of these. I would like to see you accumulate achievements by accomplishing small successes without rushing.
In August, the Committee for a Better Social Safety Net drew the first social agreement related to strengthening income guarantees for the vulnerable. In regard to improving laws related to the core ILO conventions, I hope that you will come up with rational alternatives as soon as possible by each making concessions and compromise.
When the Council cements its status as a social dialogue body, a culture that encourages social agreement can take shape. I ask representatives from the labor unions and businesses and those representing public interests to cooperate further. I, as President, will exercise my full authority to guarantee that agreements made by the Council will have binding power and the means to be executed. Thank you.