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INTERVIEWKorea poised to become top coordinator of International Labour Organization

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Minister of Employment and Labor Lee Jung-sik speaks during an interview with a group of reporters at a hotel in Geneva, Tuesday. Joint Press Corps

Minister of Employment and Labor Lee Jung-sik speaks during an interview with a group of reporters at a hotel in Geneva, Tuesday. Joint Press Corps

Achievement is recognition of country's labor reform efforts: labor minister
By Jun Ji-hye

GENEVA — Korea is the leading candidate to be selected as the top coordinator of the International Labour Organization (ILO), tasked with mediating differences of opinion among governments, employers and laborers from the 187 member states of the U.N. agency, as well as setting labor standards and developing policies, according to Minister of Employment and Labor Lee Jung-sik.

During an interview with a group of reporters in Geneva, Tuesday, Lee said becoming the chair of the Governing Body of the International Labour Office — the ILO's executive body — will be one of the major achievements made by the country at this year's International Labour Conference, which kicked off on June 3 and will end on Friday. Lee attended the annual event as the head delegate of the Korean government.

"The country will play a leading role in resolving conflicts between governments, workers and employers of various countries, as well as divergent opinions between countries, for example, between developed and developing nations, or between Muslim and non-Muslim nations," Lee said.

The Governing Body, which consists of 56 regular members and 66 deputy members, convenes three times a year to make decisions on ILO policies, programs and budget. The body also elects the director-general of the ILO.

If the decision to select Korea as the chair is finalized on Saturday through consensus among tripartite representatives, Yun Seong-deok, Korean ambassador to the U.N. office in Geneva, will assume the chairmanship.

The selection is highly possible as Korea has been recommended as the sole candidate for the position.

If finalized, it will be the second time that the country's representative has assumed the position at the ILO. The last time was 2003.

Lee emphasized that protecting workers in vulnerable positions from unfairness and inequality amid global demographic shifts, climate change and deepening polarization is a common concern shared by the international community.

"It is particularly meaningful in that we become the chair at the ILO during this significant transition period," Lee said.

"This achievement means that the Yoon Suk Yeol government's efforts to reform the labor sector, activate social dialogue and improve fundamental labor rights to meet the global standards sought by the ILO have been recognized by the international community. The achievement also reflects the international community's expectations for Korea to play a significant role on the global stage."

Regarding the ongoing deliberation to determine next year's minimum wage in Korea, where one of the main points of contention is whether it should be set separately for different sectors, the labor minister expressed his view that such a measure does not constitute discrimination as claimed by labor groups.

"Discrimination means treating individuals differently without rational reasons. That is a bad thing. In this regard, I believe it is inaccurate to characterize the measure of applying different minimum wages to each sector as discrimination," he said.

However, he pointed out that such a measure, which was implemented once in 1988, has not been reintroduced since then.

"There must be a reason for that," he said.

The minister emphasized that the 27-member Minimum Wage Commission, with nine representatives from labor, management and the public, respectively, will make a final decision after thorough deliberation.

Jun Ji-hye


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