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KMWU demands labour law reform

20 December, 2022A number of Korean union leaders have been on hunger strike in freezing temperatures outside the National Assembly in Seoul since end of November, demanding labour law reform to stop employers suing workers for strike damages.

The union leaders from IndustriALL Global Union affiliate Korean Metal Workers’ Union (KMWU), the central confederation KCTU and public and transport workers’ union are calling on South Korea’s government to enact revisions to Articles 2 and 3 from the revised Trade union and labour relations act in order to implement ILO Conventions 87 and 98, ratified in April 2021.

KMWU is demanding that the Korean government expands the definition of worker and employer to ensure that subcontracted workers are guaranteed a legal basis for negotiating with the principal employer. The Act must also be amended to respect workers' right to strike.

As a result of the current draconian labour law, five elected officials from KMWU Shipbuilding Subcontracted workers' Local are being sued by the principal employer for KRW 47 billion (US$36 million) in damages for striking this summer.

"We remember the self-immolation of labour martyrs Bae Dalho and Kim Joo-ik after employers sued them for strike damages, the damages claims suit for the 2009 Ssangyong Motors workers’ strike and the strike damages Daewoo Shipbuilding subcontracted workers faced in 2022. Countless workers have been driven to death and democratic unions have been destroyed,”

says Yoon Jang-Hyeok, KMWU president, and one of the unionists on hunger strike.

“With ILO conventions 87 and 98 ratifies, this must end. We call on the Korean government to revise the Act for effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining and strike.”

“The astronomical damage claim for going on strike is despicable. IndustriALL calls on Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering and Hanwha Group to immediately drop the lawsuits against unionists, and on the Korean government to bring law and practice in line with international standards. We will raise the lack of implementation of Conventions 87 and 98 by the Korean government at the ILO,”

says Atle Høie, IndustriALL general secretary.

The unionists and activists on hunger strike are Yoon Jang-Hyeok, president of KMWU, Yoo Choi-ahn and Lee Kim Chun-taek from KMWU Shipbuilding Subcontracted Workers' Local, Park Hee-Eun, KCTU vice president, Yu Seong-wuk from the KFSU CJ logistics drivers union, Chung Yongjae, vice president of Korean Public and Transport Workers’ Union, Yang Kyung-soo, KCTU president and human rights activist Park Lae-Goon from a coalition of 130 organizations called “Movement Headquarters to revise articles 2, 3 of the trade union law to prohibit damages claims and for principal employers responsibility”.