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Korean union leader Kim Jungwoo is free

7 April, 2014Thanks to the international campaign launched by Amnesty International and supported by Global Unions including ITUC and IndustriALL the Korean trade union leader and human rights defender Kim Jungwoo was released from jail on 1 April 2014. Other 14 leaders condemned in the same case remain imprisoned.

Kim Jungwoo is a former leader of the Ssangyong Motor branch of the Korean Metal Workers’ Union, an IndustriALL Global Union affiliate. Since June 2013 he was under arrest after participation in the protests actions in favor of workers dismissed by Ssangyoung Motor in 2009, and in memory of the 24 workers and family members who either killed themselves or died of stress-related disorders during the campaign. There was a serious threat of a heavier sentence for Jungwoo by the Supreme Court of Seoul.

Under the South Korean criminal law Penal Code 314, employers can impose large fines on unions and their leaders up to the seizure of union officials’ assets for "Obstruction of Business". For instance the total amount of claims to the national center KCTU is about USD 122 million. According to the district court ruling Ssangyoung workers are obliged to pay some USD 1.28 million in compensation to the police and USD 3.1 million to the company for damages during workers incurred while they were on strike.

Back in 2009 International Metalworkers’ Federation, one of the three founding organizations of IndustriALL Global Union, reported about brutal response of the Korean government towards legitimate industrial dispute, when Ssangyoung Motor members started a strike in protest of company’s order of mass dismissals without notifying trade union in violation of the existing collective agreement.

Then the sit-in 77-day strike started in May 2009 has been brutally broken up with use of corrosive chemicals dropped on strikers from helicopters, violent attacks from taser guns endangering people’s life and causing serious injuries. As this was not enough the strikers were denied access to basic needs like food, water and even basic medical treatment for the injured.

The promise to carry out a Parliamentary inspection of the mass layoffs at Ssangyoung Motors was given by current President of the Republic of South Korea more than a year ago, unfortunately this promise so far is not fulfilled.