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Korean trade unions protest against escalating repression

25 July, 2023On 20 July 2023, the Korean Metal Workers' Union (KMWU) took another strong stand against trade union repression in Korea, calling for an end to the heavy-handed tactics employed by the government. The protest gained momentum as over 100,000 KMWU members from various industries participated in a nationwide strike in early July, demanding better labour rights and justice.

During the rallies, KMWU leaders presented several demands, including the reform of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Adjustment Act (TULRAA), starting with articles 2 and 3. They also demanded wage hikes for all workers, starting with an increase in the minimum wage. Additionally, the union called for the rejection of the proposed 69-hour work week, fearing its impact on worker wellbeing. Central demands included putting a stop to trade union repression by the government and the resignation of the Yoon Suk-Yeol regime.

KMWU President Yoon Jang Hyeok stressed the urgency of their demands, stating that the proposed labour law reform will leave workers vulnerable and without adequate protection. He emphasized that the strike was about more than just labour rights; it was a stand for democracy, peace, and the livelihoods of ordinary people. The union pledged to unite with other social forces to address the escalating repression.

The nationwide strike, which took place from 3 to 15 July, was part of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions' (KCTU) broader protest against the government's actions towards trade unions. More than 100,000 KMWU members, including workers from Hyundai Motor, Hyundai Mobis, Daewoo Shipbuilding, and Hyundai Heavy Industries participated in the strike.

The situation in the country escalated when the Korean government conducted raids on trade union offices, leading to the arrest and charging of numerous unionists. Tragically, this repression resulted in the self-immolation of unionist Yang Hoe-Dong.

"IndustriALL stands in solidarity with the KMWU and the Korean working class, we firmly urge the Korean government to fully respect workers' rights. The condemnation of labour repression in Korea by the ILO director-general, coupled with the four complaints lodged against the government at the ILO's Committee on Freedom of Association, highlight the urgency of addressing these issues."

Atle Høie, IndustriALL General Secretary.