BWI – February 17, 2009

South Korea: Last Member of the Pohang Local Union Released

After serving two years and six months in jail, on January 18, 2009, Lee Ji Kyung, former President of the Pohang Construction Plant Workers Union in South Korea became the last of 56 members of the Pohang local union to be released from prison. President Lee led and coordinated the General Strike which took place from July 1 to September 26, 2006. During the strike the union engaged in several industrial actions, the most public was the sit-down demonstration conducted by 3,000 union members at POSCO headquarters in Pohang for nine days.

In the end, the workers peacefully concluded the sit-down demonstration and the strike came to an end when over 67% of the membership agreed to accept the agreement. However the strike came at a tremendous cost to the union and its members. 56 union members were imprisoned, close to 200 union members were injured due to repressive police tactics, one union member – Ha Joong Keun – was tragically killed during one of the demonstration, the union was fined over hundreds of thousands of dollars for what the government deemed as illegal activities.

More than 100 union members greeted Lee who stated, “The entire time I was in prison I never forgot about construction workers and the union. I will continue the struggle to ensure the rights of construction workers along with all of you – my comrades. Only with a unified strength can we succeed.”

The BWI Supports Global Union Campaign Saying US Employee Free Choice Act is Key

The BWI supports the Global Union campaign calling for the Employee Free Choice Act to be passed as it would strengthen US labour law. “Having a law that protects workers’ right to unionise in the United States is vital. Passing the Employee Free Choice Act would be a victory for US workers giving workers a free chance to form a union and hold anti-union employers accountable.” says Bernie Evers, regional vice-president for North America. The Act is set to be considered by congress in 2009.

The Act is particularly crucial now, when workers are feeling the economic crisis. America’s workers are losing their jobs, their homes and their savings. Around 60 million US workers are willing to join a union if they could but US companies deny workers the right to form unions and bargain collectively. Normark adds: “The Global Union movement cannot tolerate that workers be fired, threatened and harassed trying to form unions. As a member of the International Labour Organization (ILO), the USA is legally bound to protect workers’ fundamental right to organise and collective bargaining.”

The Act would:

  • provide workers the choice to an election or certification based on signed authorizations (both are at this time the legal ways to gaining recognition but the Employee Free Choice Act lets the workers decide which way to get recognised).
  • provide first contract mediation and arbitration -if an employer and a union are engaged in bargaining for their first contract and are unable to reach agreement within 90 days, either party may refer the dispute to the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) for mediation. If there is no agreement after 30 days of mediation, the dispute will be referred to arbitration and the results will be binding.)
  • allow for stronger penalties for violations while employees are attempting to organize or obtain a first contract with the employer.

At the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos Switzerland, the Global Unions called on US companies to support the Act that could help the USA revive its suffering middle class.

North American Cement and Building Materials Union Network

On February 9, 2009 representatives of the United Steelworkers, International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, United Mine Workers of America, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Teamsters Canada and Laborers International Union of North America met in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to establish the North American Cement and Building Materials Union Network. The network is established with the following mission objectives:

  • Sharing information
  • Presenting a unified message to industry
  • Pursuing organizing neutrality agreements in the industry
  • Enforce global framework agreements in North America
  • Involving rank and file membership of each organization
  • Promoting higher standards and better working conditions in the industry
  • Developing coordinated collective bargaining strategies
  • Recruiting and developing the next generation of union workers in the industry
  • Promoting labor-management dialogue on sustainable development
  • Continuing to coordinate with unions globally at key multinational employers

    Co-coordinators–Boilermakers and Steelworkers

    For the Resolution of the Network in support of the United Mine Workers of America, click here for related information.

In Switzerland, Working in Forestry is Dangerous

The Swiss health insurance organisation, SUVA, has warned of the dangers of forestry work in the country. Between November 2008 and January 2009, there were SIX fatal accidents. According to the organisation, forestry work is among the most dangerous professions in Switzerland. In 2007, forestry companies declared 295 accidents per 1,000 full-time workers. The case of apprentices is even more serious, since half of the apprentices were injured at work in 2007.

In the last 3 months, 6 forestry workers have died in accidents at work. Since February 2008, fatal accidents have doubled compared to previous years.

In response to these alarming developments, SUVA has developed a short check list for accident prevention :
• Never work alone
• Carefully examine the tree and its surroundings before felling
• Carefully respect all the OHS rules for forestry
• Improve the organisation in case of accidents
• Carefully follow up on the training of apprentices