Labour-management partnership development and challenges in South Korea

Changwon Lee, Korea Labor Institute

» Full paper: ilera-2019-paper-67-Lee.pdf

Labor-management partnership (LMP) can be considered as labor-management cooperation in a broad sense, and traditionally is referred to as industrial relations laying emphasis on workers participation in a narrow sense).

The reinforcement of the labor-management partnership through the participation in management of employees and labor unions which at the same time asked the improvement of corporate management performances in response was closely connected to the introduction of high performance work system, so it was natural to connect partnership with the way of working in workplaces, the flexibility of organizations, labor-productivity, and the improvement of quality.

However, labor unions experience the weakening of traditional collective bargaining while managements acquire benefits of high-productivity, low-costs, and decreased conflict costs, etc. Although profit sharing increases, it also is accompanied by the intensification of labor control and decrease in job autonomy.

Korea's LMP is at a basic level for establishing communication and trust between labor and management. In the motivation for requesting support for the LMP program, the cases for communicating between labor and management are more important than the workplace innovation and productivity enhancement purposes, and also the projects are labor-management cooperation declaration, labor-management joint grievance settlement, and community service activities, etc.

In this paper, I would like to find a slight change in the recent trend compared to the past in Korea.

For example, KyungEun Industry, which was selected as the best company in the SME sector in the 2016 Labor-Management Partnership Competition, passed the crisis of closing down at the end of 2006, not only the workshops between labor and management but also the innovation of the field for productivity improvement, it has improved long-time working hours with the basic spirit of “people first than work” and introduced employee stock ownership scheme, while labor and management joined forces in balanced innovation systemizing the human resource development program.

For the recent cases of LMP development, trust building is important for the formation of the partnership in the first stage, and it is necessary to build a program through participation based on mutual trust in the second stage, and labor and management cooperation for an innovation program that integrates learning and labor is needed in the third stage.

This study will address the key characteristics of changing LMP cases in Korea with comparison of the past experiences in European countries and suggest future challenges they are facing.