Korea: Incheon airport workers' dispute: progress, but union-busting still feared

19 November 2013
Since early November, contracted workers at Incheon International Airport, members of the KPTU Incheon Airport Regional Branch, have held strikes and rallies against the airport corporation's attempts to break the union.

The strikes are in response to a meeting between airport corporation representatives and contracting company managers at the end of October where they agreed on a six-step plan as follows:

  1. Airport Corporation publicly labels the strike illegal;
  2. Airport Corporation demands that contracting companies ‘replace’ the workers who play leadership roles in the strike,
  3. Contracting companies fire these workers;
  4. Use delay tactics should the union use legal avenues to challenge unfair labor practices;
  5. Make efforts to induce remaining union members to leave the union;
  6. Eradicate the union.  

At a further meeting on November 5, Airport Corporation representatives told contracting company managers, “Companies that cannot stop workers from participating in the strike will have their contracts cancelled” and then announced their plans to “only contract with non-union companies in the future.”

The union held a three-hour warning strike on November 5, followed by a 24-hour strike and rally on 11 November, and a further strike rally on 16 November. The union decided to postpone the ongoing strike, pending an agreement with the airport corporation.

On 15 November, the airport corporation held a further meeting with the contractors and union representatives to discuss a solution to the dispute. They reached agreement on all but ten issues, which are still pending agreement. These include demands for a guarantee of job security, wage increases, eradication of intermediary exploitation, respect for union activities, improvement of the shift system, increase in staffing levels, and the creation of an table for discussing a path toward the direct employment of currently contracted workers.

The union has given the airport corporation one week to present a proposal, deferring the planned unlimited strike until 25 November.

There is, however, still great fear that the Airport Corporation will continue with its efforts to break the union. Charges against union leaders have not been dropped, and employers continue to use illegal replacement workers during union work stoppages. The union branch has made it clear that should this repression escalate in the days ahead it could go back on strike at any time before the November 25 deadline.   

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