KOREAN CONFEDERATION OF TRADE UNIONS --------------------------------------------------------- Struggle for Labour Law Reforms Campaign News XXIII February 25, 1997
The Final Round
Recognise the Teachers' Union Stop Mass Redundancy Dismissal Lift the Ban on Paid Full-time Union Officers End Trade Union Repression
Strike Action to Resume on February 26
The Central Committee of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, on February 25, 1997, resolved to embark on the fourth wave of the general strike to bring the nation-wide mass action that began the day after Christmas last year to a successful conclusion. The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions will resume strike action on December 26 to culminate in an all out strike of all the members on February 28. The decision came as the political parties, both the ruling party and opposition parties, continue to vacillate over the key issues of the labour law.
The National Assembly, reopened for an extraordinary session on February 17, 1997, began the proceedings for the re-amendment of the railroaded labour laws to be completed by the end of February before the December 26 version comes into effect. It follows the retreat by the Kim Young Sam government, which on January 21, 1997, conceded, in the face of a month-long general strike, to a rewrite of the much-denounced labour laws.
The Ten Point Demand
The Central Committee decision came after the February 22 announcement of 10 core demands for labour law amendment. Following a meeting of the expanded executive committee, president Kwon Young-kil proclaimed that the KCTU was prepared to accept a moratorium on legal recognition if the following 10 demands were met in the labour laws amendment:
* guarantee of the freedom of association for teachers and government employees * the annulment of the ban on payment of wage for full-time union officers at company level * the restoration of union membership eligibility for dismissed workers (until the decision of the Supreme Court) * the complete repeal of the prohibition on third party intervention * the reinstitution of the ban on replacement of striking workers from out side the plant under dispute * the revocation of the ban on remuneration for the period of strike * the cancellation of the ban on industrial action within production facilities * the narrowing of the scope of 'essential services' which is subject to compulsory arbitration * the withdrawal of the legal provisions for mass redundancy dismissal * limitation of the variable working hours system to full work day for alternate Saturdays
The decision signifies a delay in the legal recognition for the KCTU the nerve-end of decade-long campaign for labour law reform and the subject of the ardent desire of the democratic trade union movement.
The KCTU decision is based on two reasons. The dramatic turn around was aimed at pressuring the political parties to make an earnest commitment to the removal of the pernicious provisions in the December 26 labour laws which would straight-jacket trade union activities and negate the effect and power of collective industrial action. The surprise decision also reflects the KCTU's commitment to win a legal recognition for the Korean Teachers and Educational Workers Union (Chunkyojo, KTU), a historic partner in the birth and development of the democratic trade union movement.
The KCTU decision is targeted at the unwillingness of the government and political parties in the National Assembly to engage in a serious and sincere effort to guarantee trade union rights. The Kim Young Sam government and the political parties, while compelled by the force of the general strike to make a commitment for re-amendment, remain cowered by the fear of straying out of the favour of the big business groups. Furthermore, they remain uncommitted to the principle of freedom of association for teachers and government employees from the fear of running against the powerful private school owners lobby and bureaucracy. Their attitude, in a more long term perspective, also reflects their concern over the potential development of the trade union movement as a potent political force which could challenge their monopoly on political and policy affairs.
The Political Procrastination
The National Assembly proceedings for the re-write of the labour laws began with two public hearings by the Standing Committee on Environment and Labour.
President Kwon Young-kil appearing before the first public hearing, on February 19, dealing with general trade union rights issues, (attended by the representatives of International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, Education International, and Public Services International) highlighted the
freedom of association for teachers and government employees as the central demand. He also presented documentation on paid full-time union officers/representatives at company levels and remuneration during the strike period in the OECD member countries to counter the Korean government's argument that such practices are unique to Korea.
The ruling party remained silent during the initial period of the National Assembly proceedings. It maintained that the December 26 action represented its best effort and it was up to the opposition parties to bring forward proposals for change for negotiation. The ruling party's attitude forced the opposition parties under an unenviable spot light.
In response, the two major opposition parties the National Congress for New Politics led by Kim Dae Jung and the United Liberal Democrats led by Kim Jong Pil on February 24 finally produced a single set of proposals
for change in the labour laws.
The opposition agenda proposes, on the one hand, to lift the ban on union pluralism at the federation and national centre level immediately while maintaining the moratorium on the enterprise level. On the other hand, they remain silent on the issue of unionisation for teachers and government
On the redundancy dismissal -- layoff issue, the two opposition political parties proposed to introduce a new law to regulate mass dismissals for managerial reasons. Their proposed arrangement reflects their wish to appease the powerful big business groups while not ignoring the anger and resistance of the working people.
While the opposition parties have produced a set of proposals which appear to approximate the trade union demands, they have failed to allay the wide-spread suspicion that they are only going through the motions without the commitment to uphold internationally recognised standards and fight off the ruling party's intransigence. Their efforts, it is interpreted, are aimed at coming out of the current labour law conjuncture unscathed. They hope to achieve this goal, it is said, by putting up, on the one hand, an appearance of representing the aspiration of the working people, and by, on
the other hand, appeasing the powerful business groups in substance by not putting up an earnest fight to defend their pronounced positions.
The General Strike: the aspiration and struggle of the working people
The Central Committee decision to embark on the fourth wave of general strike comes at a time when the fate of the labour law remains in balance.
The Central Committee streamlined the KCTU demands to sharpen the focus of the general strike. It called for:
* a legal recognition for the teachers union * a complete withdrawal of the legislative provisions for layoff * the revocation of the ban on payment of wage to full-time union officers/representatives at the company level, and * an end to the reprisals against unionists for their just actions of resistance against the repressive labour laws.
The fourth wave general strike will begin on February 26 by a mass protest rally in Seoul by union shopstewards in front of the ruling party office. The rallyists will, then, join the hundreds of teachers conducting a sit-in
protest at the offices of the two opposition parties. On the second day, February 27, the strike action will escalate to a strike involving all of the shopstewards at company level, to be followed by mass protest rallies at the major urban centres throughout the country. The fourth general strike will
culminate on February 28 with a full general strike bringing all KCTU members out to streets. The Central Committee has not decided on the length of the full general strike, leaving it to be determined in accordance with the changing situation.
The fourth wave general strike, taking place at the critical moment in the parliamentary proceedings, will demonstrate the determination of the working people not to leave their destiny in the hands of short-sighted politicians but to win their rights and welfare through struggle.
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