The situation at Hanjin, which seemed to be quieting down after 92 dismissed workers were reinstated last November, exploded when the management filed for 15.8 billion won (US$14.5 million) in compensation for the losses incurred during the 11-month-long strike by Hanjin's unionized workers. Some reports say the management had promised not to seek compensation when it struck an agreement with the union.
A worker, Choi Kang-seo, committed suicide in December, and the union says he killed himself to protest the management's behavior. Hanjin workers have taken Choi's coffin inside the shipyard where they are on strike to demand the company repeal the compensation suit.
The management said it was willing to negotiate, a welcome sign of hope. But any negotiations require mutual trust. Since the management has the upper hand, it is the management that needs to take the big step. The management should not be wily, and the unionists should be open-minded.
It was very timely that Park's transition team met with the leaders of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), an umbrella union, when the Hanjin confrontation is locked in a stalemate. It is said to be the first time ever that a transition team sat down with the KCTU, considered the more militant of the two umbrella unions. This makes the meeting meaningful in itself. Nevertheless, a question remains whether the transition team will be able to draw out the grand compromise before the new administration takes office later this month.