By: Jung Min-ho

A government agency’s plan to hold a public hearing to overhaul Korea’s labor market fell through Thursday due to a protest by trade unions.

Blocked by some 300 protesters from the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) and the Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU), Labor Minister Lee Ki-kwon could not even enter the conference venue in the CCMM building, western Seoul.

According to the state-run Korea Labor Institute, the event organizer, protesters occupied the venue to obstruct the proceedings, briefly scuffling with some 50 police officers.

The Ministry of Employment and Labor said Lee and other participants planned to talk about the issues of a “peak wage system” and whether firms should have more freedom to fire underperforming workers at the conference.

“We will stop the government’s attempt to reform the labor market by any means possible,” KCTU Vice President Kim Wook-dong said.

The clash was expected after Lee said early this month that he will complete negotiations over the two key issues by the end of June.

Under the peak wage system, employees receive a reduced salary after a certain age. With the official retirement age set to go up by two years to 60 next year, the ministry believes that adopting the system is essential to tackle the youth unemployment problem.

The government also wants companies to revise their internal regulations to make it easier for them to hire and fire workers.

The nation’s two largest trade unions have said that they cannot accept the proposals, which would make layoffs easier.

“As holding the hearing was not possible, we will set up other plans to proceed with labor market reforms,” a ministry official said.