The labor and business sectors entered the final stretch of talks to set the minimum wage for next year on Wednesday, as labor representatives ended a boycott of a meeting over the business circle's demand for a cut in the hourly pay.
Initially, the labor sector proposed 10,000 won (US$8.47) for next year, the target that President Moon Jae-in suggested for the 2020 minimum wage in his election pledge. But the business sector proposed a 4.2 percent cut to 8,000 won, inviting an angry reaction from the labor circle.
At Wednesday's meeting, labor suggested 9,570 won, while the business circle offered 8,185 won.
Labor representatives on Tuesday boycotted a plenary meeting of the Minimum Wage Council, involving business and labor representatives and experts.
"Considering the gravity of next year's minimum wage, we've decided to participate in a meeting set for later in the day," labor representatives said in a statement.
To display their complaints, labor submitted a document condemning the business sector's proposal with the signatures of around 11,000 people.
"The business circle seeks to crush workers' hope for minimum wage hikes and strangle them to fatten the belly of conglomerates," they said.
The business lobby group said its proposal to cut the hourly pay reflects the need to take into account side effects of the steep hikes.
It was the first time that the business circle demanded a cut in the minimum wage since 2009, when it proposed a 5.8 percent decrease to cope with the global financial crisis.
Its demand is a far cry from the labor sector's proposal, which represents a 19.8 percent increase from this year's hourly pay.
South Korea has raised the minimum wage by 29.1 percent to 8,350 won since President Moon took office in May 2017.
The move was intended to increase income and consumption, and prop up the economic growth. But it has invited strong backlash from smaller firms and mom-and-pop stores over mounting labor costs.
The wage council plans to seek a compromise after receiving a revised proposal from the business and labor sectors.
The labor ministry said a wage decision should be made no later than on July 15, given necessary procedures leading to a public notice set for Aug. 5.
Park Joon-shik, head of the wage council, seeks to complete deliberations on the wage decision by Thursday. But it could be extended to next week, given the sharp gap over the stances between labor and business. (Yonhap)