The Supreme Court ruled that the monthly wages that tower crane drivers receive in addition to their salaries from construction site subcontractors are in fact wages. The government has been conducting a full-scale investigation, claiming that workers have extorted monthly wages by threatening subcontractors, and defined it as ‘gunpowder’ (violence at construction sites). Critics point out that instead of punishing workers such as members of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) as criminal groups, companies should unreasonably shorten construction periods to make profits and improve structural problems at construction sites that threaten safety.
The second division of the Supreme Court (presiding judge, Justice Lee Dong-won) failed to hear in an appeal trial on the 29th in a lawsuit for refund of unjust enrichment, which a reinforced concrete construction company in Damyang-gun, Jeollanam-do asked for the return of 650 million won in monthly wages paid to 16 drivers of a tower crane company. issued a judgment of dismissal. This means that the Court of Appeal confirmed the ruling that the drivers are not obliged to return the monthly wages, saying that the monthly wages are actually wages. The Court of Appeal judged that the monthly fee was, in effect, wages, saying, “It is a practice that has been going on for decades.” The monthly fee is money received monthly from subcontractors who have no employment relationship with tower crane drivers. It is a type of labor cost customarily paid for additional work to meet the construction period.
Monthly wages at construction sites are the starting point of the government’s omnidirectional pressure on construction unions. In February, President Yoon Seok-yeol ordered strict crackdowns, saying, “At construction sites, unions with vested interests openly commit illegal acts such as demanding money and valuables, forcing employment, and obstructing construction안전놀이터.” While the police launched an investigation into the members of the construction union on charges of extorting monthly wages, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport threatened to suspend their licenses (up to one year) if they received monthly wages, and applied all-round pressure. The construction union revealed that as of the 30th, 227 union members had been investigated by the police in connection with receiving monthly wages.
At construction sites, there are voices urging that the government should come up with measures to address the structural problems that generate monthly wages even now. Amugae Lee (34), a tower crane engineer with 7 years of experience, said, “We have been the first to argue that the monthly fee should be eliminated and excessive extra work or dangerous work, which is the name of paying it, should be eliminated from the site.” I became the subject of an investigation, but the unsafe working environment has not changed.”
The construction union made a statement on the 30th, saying, “This Supreme Court ruling put the brakes on the government Seok-Yeol Yoon and Minister of Land, Infrastructure and Transport Won Hee-ryong, who are selling monthly wages as illegal and unfair extortion and driving workers to commit crimes.” urged to stop the coercive and unreasonable investigation into the murder.” However, the government reiterated its stance that paying monthly wages is an illegal practice that needs to be eradicated. An official from the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs said, “The purpose of the Supreme Court’s ruling is that the monthly wages received by the drivers at the construction site are not unfair profits, not that the monthly wages are wages.” The position that it is a custom to do has not changed,” he said.