As the administration moves to brand union actions as anti-government, its new policy on public corporation advancement is being met with growing criticism
Posted on : Dec.1,2009 12:10 KST Modified on : Dec.1,2009 12:12 KST
As the Lee administration takes a hardline response to the Korean Railway Workers’ Union (KRWU) strike, calling it illegal, labor experts are criticising the Lee administration for denying the workers’ right to strike.
After going through an unsuccessful mediation process with the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC), the KRWU held a vote among its members and decided to launch a strike on Nov. 26 to demand the withdrawal of the Korea Railroad Corporation’s (KORAIL) unilateral decision to terminate their collective bargaining agreement. The union has been following the law about strike procedures and have excluded 10,000 members who are necessary for maintaining rail services from the strike. Police, however, who say the strike is illegal announced on Monday that they will be filing arrest warrants for 15 members of the union leadership, including one for Kim Gi-tae, head of KRWU.
The Lee administration is referring to the strike as illegal because the strike is against government policies advancing public corporations and is for the reinstatement of laid off workers. KORAIL is also saying that the strike is characteristic of an anti-government strike opposed to the advancement of public corporations and therefore cannot be viewed as justified. KORAIL is pointing out the fact that the union is including the reinstatement of workers who have been laid off, the maintenance of full-time unionists and other management-rights that they insist belong solely to the company in its demands.
Some observers are pointing out, however, that since the plan to advance public corporations being pushed by the Lee administration in fact includes changes in work conditions that must be agreed upon through labor-management wage negotiations, the Lee administration’s claim is less persuasive. Gwon Yeong-guk, lawyer on the labor committee of MINBYUN-Lawyers for a Democratic Society, says the new policy on public corporation advancement includes a wage system reform plan, including a peak wage system and incentive system, and is a matter that will bring about great changes in work conditions. Gwon points out that KRWU went on strike as a result of its opposition to KORAIL’s decision to terminate the collective bargaining agreement, which means the Lee administration’s characterization of the strike as illegal and a political statement in opposition to government policy lacks persuasiveness.
Do Jae-hyeong, professor of Ewha Women’s University, says that although there may be several aims of the strike, it is customary to determine legality based on the strike’s main goal. Professor Do says that calling a strike illegal on the basis of highlighting a relatively unimportant point of contention may be a violation of the employees’ right to strike.
There are also those who say that the police investigation of union leaders reflects the Lee administration’s will to reform public corporations, and very possibly could escalate tensions. Professor Do says if prosecutors are raising the question of the legality of the strike based on goals rather than procedures or style, it means too much room is being allowed for prosecutors to make subjective and arbitrary judgments. Do says this could worsen labor-management relations.
Jo Don-moon, professor of Catholic University, says the Lee administration is not viewing labor-management relations as an autonomous relationship between company and management and refers to what is happening as the result of excessive government interference.
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* Reference document
The Current Situation of Labor Rights in South Korea
Korea Confederation of Trade Unions, 2009.11.03