16 July, 1998

 Korean Arrests: World Unions Call on Government  to Abide by International Law and Resume Dialogue  

The Korean government risks reverting to the practices of its predecessors by violating international labour norms in its hounding and arrests of trade union leaders say international trade union organisations. They are calling on the government to act in accordance with internatioal labour standards, in particular ILO Convention 87 on Freedom of Association, and to resume dialogue and negotiations with the unions on reforms for economic recovery. 

The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) and the Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD (TUAC) have received information from their affiliates in Korea that the government has issued arrest warrants for at least 45 leading trade unionists, including leaders of the Korean Metal Workers’ Federation (KMWF). So far, three trade union leaders have been arrested: Jung Yoon-sub, Kung Chong-man and Lee Kyang-keun, and the police sent 400 men with cars, fire engines and tractors to the KMWF Headquarters to arrest its President Dan Byong-ho. However, he avoided arrest, and is now in sanctuary in Myongdong Cathedral. 

The apparent government crackdown is a response to the KMWF strike launched on July 14, which followed a union rally on Sunday, July 12 called by the two leading Korean trade unions, the Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU) and the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU). Worker unrest is growing in the face of government inability to implement reforms for economic recovery, as agreed by the Tripartite Commission. 

Workers have been hit hard by the deterioration of working and living standards, brought about by the financial crisis and subsequent austerity programmes. Unemployment has tripled since the end of 1997. In particular the unions are protesting at the way in which restructuring has been carried out in the financial sector without union agreement and without adequate social protection for those made redundant, and at unfair labour practices by employers. 

The ICFTU, TUAC, and APRO (the ICFTU’s regional organisation in Singapore) have protested to the Korean President about the danger of returning to authoritarian methods of the past and the continued existence and use of labour legislation which violates freedom of association of trade unionists, for taking legitimate trade union action. The government action is very detrimental to the promotion of healthy and sound industrial relations practice say the trade union organisations. They are monitoring the situation, and will be taking follow-up action if necessary. 

In addition, the union organisations are writing to the Korean government urging them to resume the Tripartite Commission in good faith, and to ensure full respect of the ILO Convention on Freedom of Association. The unions stress that dialogue, nor conflict with civil society, including unions, is the only constructive way forward. The ICFTU is also calling on its affiliates in 141 countries to protest to the Korean government. 


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