(Newsletter No. 3) March 22, 2023.
[Statement] Stop the Suppression of the Trade Union Movement Right Now (March 6, 2023)
The current administration should immediately stop the repression of labor movement. Stop the repression of labor movement, a relic of 30 years ago!
South Korea is at the risk of retreating back to the days of the military regime 30 years ago when labor movement was repressed for capitalists and then-dictatorship.
Thirty-three years ago, in 1990, Roh Tae-woo administration exercised so-called "Right to Investigate Labor Union Activities" under the Trade Union Law against 160 unions nationwide, mainly those that had joined the National Council of Trade Unions (aka NCTU). It also outrageously did accuse more than 50 unions of refusing the "investigations" and detained union officials. It was the administration's initiative to prevent the democratic union movement from growing into a nation-level union.
The current administration is shifting all responsibility for economic crisis to Korean people in the, in which there is no way out. Amid rising heating bills, rising utility bills, and skyrocketing consumer prices, people's livelihoods have reached the point of ruin. In order to prevent public anger and resistance that may erupt at any time, struggling workers and peasants are falsely accused of being North Korean spies, and they are trying to change the current political situation in order to maintain their power. The National Intelligence Service is the acting captain of anti-communism rule.
The administration has vowed to carry out three major reforms (labor reform, pension reform, and education reform), but in reality, they are increasing the suffering of workers and ordinary people. Labor reform, centered on the introduction of pay-for-performance and wage cuts, is to shift the pain of the economic crisis to workers. To isolate trade unions and labor movements, the administration is mobilizing all its power and means at its disposal.
In particular, they are launching all-out attacks on trade unions that are fighting against their policies. It blocked the cargo union’s struggle to keep the promise of a safe fare system, and now it is offending the construction union as well as a corrupt group as it joins in the cargo union’s struggle in solidarity. But think about why more than 40,000 construction workers gathered in Gwanghwamun. In 2021, as many as 471 construction workers died at construction sites. Still, not a single business owner has been punished.
Amid the terrible working conditions of multi-level subcontracting system, construction workers rallied as unions to call for better working conditions and more wages. The tower crane’s monthly fee in question now has been an unreasonable practice as it replaces staffing with money instead of securing more workers. The monthly fee is paid by the construction company to shorten the construction period and justify overtime work. Thus, the court also ruled that this money was a fair wage, not the price of illegal coercion.
We cannot help but ask whether it is fair for the son of Congressman Kwak Sang-do to receive a severance package of 5 billion won, and whether the construction workers’ demand to raise the price of their lives to work safely is unfair.
Recently, the National Intelligence Service once again mobilized to seize and search Daewoo Chosun contract workers and the Gyeongnam branch of the metal union, which had a deep resonance in our society last summer when they fought by shouting, "We can't live like this."
Why is the National Intelligence Service so suddenly in full swing? According to the amendments to the law, from January next year, the anti-communism investigative powers of the National Intelligence Service will be transferred to the police. The National Intelligence Service, notorious for making up a case of espionage, human rights abuses, and political interference, is making a spectacular media play while showing off who they are in order to keep its authority intact.
What is the Ministry of Employment and Labor doing now? In response to the President's one word, the Ministry called transparency in union accounting into a question and said it would now look at union financial data. The union's finances and accounts have been internally audited in accordance with union laws and its own bylaws, and have been transparently open to union members. But, now, the Ministry said it would look into the accounts of trade unions, which is arguably a serious violation of the most basic independence of trade union activities.
The government says it will look into the accounts because it gives subsidies to labor unions, but in the case of government subsidies, it is managed as a special account and requires the union to report all receipts. If transparency is an issue in the use of these government subsidies, it is tantamount to admitting that the Ministry of Employment and Labor has not done its job.
The Korean Health and Medical Workers’ Union (KHMU) has not received a single penny of financial support from the government or local governments in the past five years. KHMU has only 100 million won of building lease management funds in its account that were subsidized via the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions several years ago.
Recently, the Legislative Research Office of the National Assembly clarified that "financial books and documents" cannot be considered to be included in the "results of accounts and operating conditions" that unions must submit to the administrative office. Courts have also ruled that union members have the right to access data, but must only be at a level that does not interfere with union’s activities and work. As such, the independence of trade unions as a group has highly been protected under the law.
If we look at the reality of government subsidies, which are inflated as if huge amounts of tax dollars are being wasted, it is clear to whom the benefits are being given. Looking at the amount of subsidies paid by the Ministry of Employment and Labor, about KRW 5.86 billion (about KRW 4.18 million per group) was provided to 1,400 organizations in the labor field for three years from 2020~2022, while about KRW 59.56 billion (about KRW 11.9 billion per group) was provided to five employer organizations. That is, employer groups are given ten times more than labor groups, and more notably, 2,800 times more was given to one organization. The five employer groups that received government subsidies included the Federation of Korean Industries, the former accomplices of Park Geun-hye and Choi Soon-sil's state manipulation scandal.
Officers, including the chairman of a trade union, must have the vote of at least 50 percent of all members to be elected. They are elected by direct secret ballot. If there is no majority in the first round of voting, a runoff election must be held. Stricter requirements are applied for the election of trade union representatives than for the president or parliamentary election, which are elected with only 30~40% of the vote without a runoff election.
Rather than blaming the unions, the prosecutor’s office should investigate closed and undemocratic groups such as the Federation of Korean Industries that do not elect executives. The same goes for the other four employer organizations. The government says it is worried about tax leakage but it is afraid of even going near the big Chaebol groups and only looks into the small shops of ordinary people.
If you are pursuing a transparent information society, disclose the hundreds of millions of won in taxes recently spent by Chair Choi Jae-hye of the Board of Audit and Inspection of Korea and Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon on the renovation and repair of the residence, as well as the huge tax details incurred in the relocation of President Yoon Seok-yeol's office and official residence. All special activity funds used by the prosecutor's office, the National Intelligence Service and other organizations in power without any scrutiny should be disclosed.
In the midst of the economic crisis and severe youth unemployment that everyone is worried about, we cannot help but ask why the Minister of Employment and Labor is now thinking about how to look through the account books of the trade unions and hold a countermeasures meeting.
Isn’t it urgent for the Ministry of Employment and Labour to take the lead in amending Articles 2 and 3 of the Trade Union Law and to promote the institutionalization of industrial bargaining as a way to close the labor market gap in order to increase youth jobs and ensure that all workers have the right to unionize?
At present, the administration is waging war against the labor unions by mobilizing state organizations such as the prosecutor's office, the police, the Ministry of Employment and Labor, the Ministry of Land and Transportation, and the Fair Trade Commission, which receive taxes. This is a situation where a dog is biting its owner.
The government should immediately stop curbing workers and ordinary people but thank about how to curb the skyrocketing prices.