January 26, 2007
The government and civil servants' unions held their first
official meeting today to discuss the much-disputed plan to reform the
public workers pension system.
In the meeting Home Affairs Minister
Park Myung-jae promised that the government would finalize the reform plan
based upon an agreement from the public employees' unions, but reiterated
that it would not negotiate with illegal unions.
The Federation of Government
Employees' Union chairman Park Sung-chul, in return, requested the
minister to fully protect the union's labor actions.
The FGEU, the Central Government
Officials' Labor Union and the National Educational Office Public
Servants' Union met with the minister today, representing a collaboration
of 39 public sector unions which have been opposing to the government's
It was the first official meeting of
government and public workers' unions after last year's enforcement of the
new labor law that permits labor activities of civil servants.
"We must reform the current
pension system to stabilize the nation's troubled pension fund. The
government will strive to come up with reform plans with an agreement with
the public employees, and seek measures to minimize the burden on them by
increasing their retirement payment," Minister Park said.
"The government will also hold
active negotiations with the unions within the law. Illegal unions will be
excluded from the discussion," he added.
Earlier this month, a government
panel released a "pay more, receive less" draft to reform the
troubled public servants' pension system but was faced with vehement
opposition from public officials as well as civic groups.
According to the panel's proposal,
public employees will face more than a 3 percentage point increase in
pension contributions, while their overall benefits will be reduced by
The contributions will be increased
gradually from the current 5.5 percent of monthly taxable income to 6.6
percent by 2008 and to 8.5 percent by 2018.
Also, the minimum age to be entitled
to receive pension payments will be raised incrementally.
Currently, retirees begin to receive
pension payments from the age of 60. But this will also be raised by 12
months every two years from 2023 before settling at 65 in 2031.
Although the government made clear
that it was an inevitable reform as the 46-year-old pension scheme is
expected to post a deficit of some 18.1 trillion won by 2030, public
workers opposed to the plan due to the increased burden on them.
Aiming to finalize the measure in the
first half of this year, the government asserted that its draft would
prevent an anticipated depletion of pension funds in three decades by
saving up to 870 billion won ($940 million) next year alone.
"As a matter directly related to
our right to live, the pension reform must be reviewed under mutual
agreement with the public employees," labor unions said. "The
government cannot ask us to make uneven sacrifices."
The labor unions also asked the
government for an extension of their retiring age, full protection of
their labor rights, and an establishment of a permanent discussion channel
for active opinion sharing between the two sides.
The government has been refusing to
hold collective negotiations with public workers' unions, asserting that
proper discussions can only be held when the unions abandon illegal
Unions have filed a complaint to the
Seoul Regional Labor Relations Commission, insisting that the government
was illegally ignoring their rights.
After enforcement of the new labor
law last year, about 60 unions including the FGEU were granted legal
status by the government. But the Korean Government Employees Union, one
of two labor unions representing low-level government workers, has been
refusing to register to gain legal status.
Opposing the new labor
law, unions including the KGEU have been demanding the government grant
labor rights to hold strikes and remove the prohibition against
high-ranking officials from joining the union.
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