Han Sang Gyun, president of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), was awarded the Febe Velasquez trade union rights award at the Congress of the Dutch trade union confederation the FNV.
The award is given once every two years to individuals who have made an exceptional contribution to defending and protecting trade union rights in countries where human and workers’ rights are lacking.
The award was accepted on behalf of president Han by KCTU’s vice president Lee Sang Jin because Han is imprisoned in South Korea on politically motivated charges. President Han was nominated by the global unions IndustriALL, the BWI and the IUF.
Han has been in prison since December 2015 on charges related to organizing anti-government demonstrations as part of the KCTU’s campaign to prevent the former Park government from passing neoliberal labour reforms.
IndustriALL general secretary Valter Sanches said:
“When I visited president Han in prison in November last year, I was impressed by his humility, his fortitude, and his commitment to the struggle for trade union and human rights in Korea.
“President Han is a brave man who has sacrificed a lot, and inspired many thousands of people to take action. That action resulted in the removal and imprisonment of former Korean President Park.”
Ironically, former President Park Geun-hye and Samsung vice chair Lee Jay-yong are being held in the same prison as Han.
In a statement delivered by vice president Lee Sang Jin on accepting the award, Han said:
“Capitalism which has destroyed genuine democracy and the livelihoods of workers in my country has become a more dangerous and fearful form of dictatorship than the military dictatorships of our past.
“In this political climate, where we are seen as the enemy of the state, the KCTU could not kowtow to the government just because of fear of trade union repression.
“The history of the KCTU is based on struggle for democratic rights, labour rights, and human rights and resistance from attacks from the government and employers. And we have continued to maintain this rich legacy. As a leader of the KCTU and representative of the working class, it is only natural for me to be in the frontline.
“When I was informed that I was to receive the Febe Elizabeth Velasquez Trade Union Award, as I contemplated in the small confines my cell, I was very humbled and to be frank embarrassed.”
The prize is named after Salvadoran union leader Febe Elizabeth Velásquez (1962-1989), who was murdered for her trade union activity.