Korean Public Sector Workers Demand Trade Union Rights

On April 11, representatives from the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) and seven KCTU affiliates gathered in Gwanghwamun Plaza for a press conference to announce the launch of the 'KCTU Alliance to Win Public Sector Trade Union Rights, Stop Privatization and Defend Quality Public Services'. The establishment of this alliance represents a commitment on the part of democratic public sector unions to work more closely together in the face of the South Korean government's attack on public sector workers and the services they provide.

The seven affiliates participating in the Alliance include the Korean Federation of Public Services and Transportation Workers' Unions (KPTU), the Korean Government Employees' Union (KGEU), the Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union (KTU), the Korean University Workers' Union (KUWU), the Korean Health and Medical Workers' Union (KHMU), the National Union of Media Workers (NUM) and the Democratic General Union.

The Alliance's main goals are to: 1) Win guarantee of public sector trade union rights and the reinstatement of unfairly dismissed public sector workers, 2) stop privatization and strengthen quality public services, 3) win regular employment for an abolish discrimination against precariously-employed workers in the public sector, 4) and win a system for determining public sector working conditions through labor-government negotiations.

In addition to the KCTU Alliance, coalitions including unions and civil society organizations have also recently been established to focus specifically on the issues of privatization and public sector precarious employment. These coalitions are working on issues such as the attempts to close public healthcare clinics, the government's plans to increase the involvement of private capital in transport and utilities (privatization), and the government's policy on public sector precarious employment, which leaves the vast majority of precarious workers facing job instability and discrimination in wages and working conditions.

One of the main issues, therefore, that the KCTU Alliance must focus on right now is that of trade union rights. By international labor standards, all workers, including public sector workers, possess the fundamental right to freely form and join trade unions and engage in union activities. Nonetheless, public sector workers in many countries are denied these rights, Korea being a representative example.

For the last several years, the South Korean government has been attacking public sector union's collective bargaining rights, requiring that employers at public institutions eliminate provisions in collective bargaining agreements considered 'irrational', including those calling for consultation with worker representatives on staffing issues, 'excessive' allowances for union activities during work hours, and benefits and wage provisions seen as too generous. Unions at dozens of public institutions that have resisted making these concessions have faced unilateral cancelled of their CBAs and pressure tactics aimed at getting members to disaffiliate. Hundreds members of the KGEU and KPTU, moreover, have been unfairly dismissed from their jobs in retaliation for protests opposing faulty government policy. In addition, since 2009 the government has refused to recognize the legal union status of the KGEU, making it an extra-legal organization. The government is also currently threatening to cancel the union registration of the KTU. In addition, nearly half of the 560,000 South Korean government employees, including fire fighters and police officers, are legally prohibited from forming and joining trade unions. All of these measures are in direct violation of international standards.

Recognizing the importance public sector trade union rights to the provision of quality public services, the ILO has agreed to review the global implementation and enforcement of Convention 151, which guarantees trade union rights the public sector, this June during the International Labor Conference (ILC). In the lead-up to the ILC, the KCTU Alliance is engaging in a range of activities to call attention to the government's violations and demand correction. These activities include a petition campaign calling for the ratification of Convention 151 and related core convention (ILO Convention 87 (Freedom of Association), and 98 [Collective Bargaining]) and an end to the repression of public sector unions and a national rally planned for June 1. In addition, the KCTU Alliance is sending a delegation to the ILC, which will participate in the formal ILC discussion, engage in outreach and protest actions and exchange information and experiences with public sector unions from around the world.

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