International trade union mission condemns continuing labour rights violations in South Korea

21 January 2014
Many people participating in a rally in front of Seoul station
PSI participated in an international trade union mission in South Korea on 17-20 January to investigate continued fundamental labour rights violations against trade unions including PSI affiliates. The mission comes in the midst of increasing repression against Korean trade unions in response to a 23-day long rail strike. Participants in the mission include John Evans, General Secretary of the Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD, PSI Deputy General Secretary David Boys and other representatives from ITUC, PSI and ITF.

From 9 to 31 December, the Korean Railway Workers’ Union (KRWU), a member of the PSI-affiliated Korean Federation of Public Services and Transportation Workers' Unions (KPTU), carried out a strike against the Korean government’s unilateral pursuit of rail fragment and privatisation. Despite the fact that the strike was fully legal by international standards and followed domestic minimum service requirements, the Korean government and Korea Railroad Corporation (Korail) have labeled it illegal. During the strike police raided the offices of the KRWU and its national centre the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU). Nearly 200 KRWU officers have been charged with criminal charges, five have been imprisoned and hundreds more face dismissal and other disciplinary actions. The Korail has also filed suits for damages and a defamation claim worth millions of euros against the union. 

The repression against the KRWU is just the latest in a long line of rights violations against public sector unions. The Korean government has rejected the PSI-affiliated Korean Government Employees’ Union (KGEU)’s application for union registration four times, most recently in August of last year, making the union an extralegal organisation. In October, the government also cancelled the union registration of the Korean Teachers and Education Workers' Union (KTU). While the ostensible reason given for the de-registration of these unions is that their memberships include dismissed workers, it is clear that they are being targeted because they oppose the Korean government’s policies of deregularisation and privatisation of public services. The International Labour Organization (ILO) has recommended several times that the Korean government revise domestic laws to allow dismissed and unemployed workers to maintain their union membership and to recognize the KGEU and KTU.

The Korean government’s undemocratic pursuit of privatisation and unabashed attack against trade unions has sparked widespread outcry and support for the trade union movement from civil society and the Korean public. Within this context, Korean trade unions are preparing together with civil society for a general strike and mass people’s rally on 25 February, the one-year anniversary of the current administration.

During the mission, international trade union delegates participated in the rally held in front of Seoul Station that was attended by hundreds of PSI-affiliated union members. They met opposition party leaders and visited the imprisoned KRWU leaders. They also held a strategy session to plan strategies for pressuring the Korean government to reverse course, to respect trade union rights, and allow real democracy to develop in the country.

Read the PSI/ITUC/TUAC/ITF High level mission statement

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