Yoon pledges support as Korean SMEs calls for labor reform

2023.05.24 11:49:01 | 2023.05.24 13:07:28

President Yoon Suk Yeol pep talks at the SME fair in Seoul on May 23. [Photo by Yonhap]이미지 확대

President Yoon Suk Yeol pep talks at the SME fair in Seoul on May 23. [Photo by Yonhap]

President Yoon Suk Yeol pledged government support for small- and medium-sized enterprises on Tuesday, in response to calls for deregulation and labor market reform.

“We have made the best efforts possible over the past year to make the economy market-friendly, private sector-led and business-centered,” said Yoon. “Our government will work on the legal and regulatory framework to ensure your ceaseless attempts and pursuit of innovation to pay you back with rewards.”

Prior to the president’s speech, Chairman Kim Ki-Mun of the Korea Federation of Small and Medium Businesses (KBIZ) called for close cooperation between businesses and the government during his opening remarks. Though he did not mention it directly during his opening remarks, Kim highlighted labor reform in particular, including flexibility in the 52-hour work week policy.

According to a survey released by KBIZ a day ahead of the fair, six out of 10 SMEs, or 59.7 percent of respondents, listed labor market reforms as the main small-company policy focus that they expect from the Yoon administration in its second year, hoping for changes to the 52-hour work week rule and to the Serious Accidents Punishment Act.

Marking its 34th anniversary, the SME fair is the country’s largest gathering for small and medium companies, jointly organized by KBIZ and the Ministry of SMEs and Startups. The fair has taken place now at the Presidential Office for two years in a row, and the president attended the fair both years, displaying his administration’s strong willingness to help address key issues faced by SMEs, including regulatory reform, labor market reform, and shared prosperity between large conglomerates and small companies.

During his speech this year, Yoon stressed “shared prosperity” between large conglomerates and small companies. “Competition in global markets is all about ecosystem versus ecosystem, cluster against cluster, rather than a race among individual businesses,” Yoon said. “High quality and innovation will come only when SMEs and startups grow together with conglomerates, which will result in our national competitiveness.”

Yoon encouraged businesses to explore global markets with no fear or doubt, and assured them of his government’s support for keeping the market fair and efficient. Following the president’s speech, Jay Y. Lee, executive chairman of Samsung Electronics Co., offered a toast. “Though the economy is going through a difficult time, this will pass as the president said, if we all work together as a team,” Lee said.

The fair hosted some 550 attendees, including the president, government officials and staff from SMEs and startups. The chairs and vice chairs from nine large conglomerates were also among the attendees, including Samsung’s Lee, SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won, Hyundai Motor Group Executive Chair Euisun Chung, LG Group Chairman Koo Kwang-mo and Lotte Group Chairman Shin Dong-Bin.

First-time attendees included GS Group Chairman Heo Tae-soo, Shinsegae Group Vice Chairman Chung Yong-jin, Hanwha Group Vice Chairman Kim Dong-kwan and HD Hyundai Chief Executive Officer Chung Ki-sun. Only POSCO Holdings Inc. Chairman Choi Jeong-woo was not present, from among the top 10 conglomerate bosses, due to a business trip. Their attendance is viewed as representing a positive response from business circles toward the Yoon administration’s “new shared growth” policy.

This year’s fair also focused on shared prosperity with startups, organizing a sideline gathering between newer SMEs and older businesses. During the gathering, representatives from SMEs, large conglomerates, platform companies, small and self-employed companies and female-led companies all spoke in turn and posed for commemorative photos with young and up-and-coming business leaders.

By Chung Ji-sung, Park Yun-gyun, Kim Si-gyun, and Chang Iou-chung

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