ITUC OnLine – November 10, 2010

Global Unions Decry Continued Labour Rights Violations in Korea 

Brussels, 10 November 2010
(ITUC OnLine): On the occasion of the G20 meeting in Seoul, the global union movement is calling for the Korean government to honour its international commitments and respect workers’ rights.

Korea is one of the very worst countries in the industrialised world for the repression of its workers. The laws in Korea are used by the government and employers to routinely

•  jail trade unionists for exercising their rights;
•  stop subcontracted workers from joining a union or bargaining collectively; and
•  prevent many public sector workers from joining a union or bargaining collectively. 

The number of arrests, the severity of prison sentences and incidents of physical violence against workers are all increasing.

When Korea joined the OECD in 1996, the government made a commitment to bring its labour laws in line with internationally accepted standards. After initial progress on several issues, they failed to keep their promises when the OECD, over the objections of the Trade Union Advisory Committee (TUAC), lifted the monitoring.

At the time of the G20 meetings in Seoul, Korea has still failed to ratify the core conventions of the International Labour Organization (ILO) on freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. The government has repeatedly refused ILO offers for technical assistance to reform its legislation to bring it in line with international standards. 

Korean legislation is applied in a manner that repeatedly and systematically violates workers’ rights. The Korean government routinely uses criminal sanctions under Article 314 of the criminal code to arrest and imprison trade unionists for exercising their legitimate right to conduct trade union activities. The Korean law denies de facto workers in precarious or irregular employment the right to join a trade union and bargain collectively. Employers engage workers on precarious employment contracts, specifically to prevent them from forming and joining trade unions. Most workers in the public sector are subjected to anti-union discrimination and disciplinary measures, and their collective agreements are unilaterally cancelled by the government. Whole categories of government workers are prevented from organising through an overly broad definition of “essential services”. 

In the lead-up to the G20 meetings, Korean President Lee Myung-bak has received hundreds of letters from trade unions all over the world, calling on him to honour Korea’s international commitments and respect workers’ rights. Speaking on behalf of global unions, Ambet Yuson, general secretary of the Building and Woodworkers International (BWI), said, “If Korea wants to take its place alongside leading nations on a global platform like the G20, the government must fully meet its obligation to ensure the observance of fundamental labour rights in Korea. You can’t expect to be considered a world leader if you don’t respect workers’ rights.” 

Global unions are calling on the Korean government to honour its international commitments and
•   amend section 314 of the Penal Code to bring it into conformity with freedom of association principles;
•   release all trade unionists imprisoned for trade union activities;
•   remove all legislative barriers to precarious workers exercising their rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining and prevent the abuse of subcontracting as a means of depriving them of their fundamental rights;
•   fully guarantee the fundamental labour rights of public sector workers, including the right to join trade unions and to bargain collectively, and the right to freedom of expression;
•   recognise and register the KGEU and the KPU (Korean Professors Union);
•   remove legal barriers to public sector workers exercising their fundamental rights, such as the overly broad definition of “essential services”; and
•    end threats to decertify the Korean Transport Workers Union (KTWU) and the Korean Construction Workers Union (KCWU) unless the unions expel members who are working in disguised employment relationships.  

For more information, refer to a briefing note here.    

For comment please contact:
Ambet Yuson on +41 79 540 13 38
Jenny Holdcroft on +41 79 616 01 03


Unions Demand Rights for Migrant Workers at Global Forum 

Brussels/Puerto Vallarta, 10 November 2010
(ITUC OnLine): Trade union representatives at a Global Forum on Migration and Development (GMFD) meeting in Puerta Vallarta, Mexico, on and 8 and 9 November were joined by migrant rights organisations in calling for a rights-based approach to migration, along with more effective action to combat racism and discrimination. 

A delegation of 30 trade unionists organised by Global Unions took part in the GFMD “Civil Society Days” in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, preceding the inter-governmental meeting. The union representatives and other civil society participants expressed concern that, while some improvements had been made this year, there are still insufficient possibilities for their voices to be heard in the inter-governmental processes on migration.

Noting the comments of Mexican President Felipe Calderon Hinojosa, which underlined the primacy of human rights laws over migration policies and stressed that the economic strength of the United States would not have been possible without the constant supply of Mexican labour force, several representatives of the Mexican civil society expressed their skepticism about the real commitment of the Mexican government to the human rights of migrants, noting that on many occasions the authorities had simply failed to investigate cases of violations.  

In their interventions, Global Unions representatives highlighted that migrant workers are currently feeling the brunt of deteriorating job markets and insisted on the urgent need for a rights-based approach to migration. They call upon governments to adequately protect migrants against racism and xenophobia, which are clearly on the rise in several countries. A side event on the 20th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, co-organised by the ILO and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, was welcomed by the union delegates, who expressed their full support to the Convention, which has yet to be ratified by any of the “migrant destination” countries.   

During the discussions, migrants’ rights organisations and Global Unions pointed out to the contradictions of several receiving countries, including the US and the EU, that depend heavily upon cheap migrant labour in order to foster their economic development but fail to protect migrants´ rights. “Migrant workers contribute to the economic and social development; however, they are consistently marginalized, exploited, and abused. It is the fundamental responsibility of all governments to protect the rights of migrant workers,” noted Ambet Yuson, the general secretary of the Building and Wood Workers International. 

In their statement the Global Unions warn against the dangers of overestimating the contribution that migration can make to development and the promotion of remittances as a substitute to development strategy. “The recruitment of qualified workers such as nurses and doctors depletes developing countries of human capital. This drain brain is having a devastating impact on the poorest economies especially in Africa,” said Peter Waldorff, the general secretary of PSI, the public service international federation.   

In addition, the Global Unions representatives expressed their reservations about the inter-governmental meetings of the GFMD, which are voluntary, non-binding and tend to focus exclusively on temporary migration. The promotion of temporary labour migration programmes as a solution to both labour shortages in destination countries and development deficits in countries of origin needs to be nuanced. “In many cases these simplistic assumptions have proved wrong and the guest workers programmes agreed by sending and receiving countries during GFMDs are increasingly used as a way to circumvent labour laws and standards,” says Sharan Burrow the ITUC general secretary. 

With regard to the GFMD review scheduled to take place in 2013 under the UN High Level Dialogue on Migration, Global Unions call for a stronger involvement of the UN and most particularly the ILO. Getting the GFMD process closer to the UN would help ensure that discussions about global migration take place within the normative framework of the UN, something that could help guarantee better protection of migrant workers’ rights. 

To read the Global Unions’ statement click here.     

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