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Public Services International (PSI) Asia Pacific expresses solidarity and support for the KPTU-Korean Railway Workers’ Union (KPTU-KRWU) and their upcoming strike actions. These actions are legitimate and in defence of public services, safety, and labour rights. We reject the attempts by the employers and the government to label the strikes illegal.
KPTU-KRWU has planned a series of joint strikes in the public sector in September and October to defend and expand the publicness of public services, stop privatisation of public services, abolish the performance-based pay system, stop regressive reforms of labour laws, institutionalise collective bargaining between public sector unions and the government, and ensure safe staffing levels.
The Korea Employers' Federation (KEF) had issued a statement on 31st August labelling the strike as illegal. It further urged the government to oppose the strike. Subsequently, the Korean government obeyed those orders and took a militant stand against the industrial action by KPTU-KRWU. We believe that the assertions are baseless. The government contends that policies such as the restructuring and privatization of public services fall outside the purview of collective bargaining and industrial action under Korean Labour Law. This claim effectively denies the workers the protection of the law for their legitimate right to strike. Instead, illegal actions have been proposed by the government. They plan to use replacement workers from the military and reinforcements to maintain 70% of metropolitan rail services during the strike.
Kate Lappin Regional Secretary, PSI Asia & Pacific
Any efforts to obstruct such strikes or penalize participating workers constitutes a violation of the fundamental right to freedom of association. We urge the Korean government to adhere to the recommendations set forth by the ILO...
The workers in Korea have democratically decided to take action against government policies, with the primary objective of safeguarding and enhancing the publicness of public services. Around 65% of KPTU-KRWU members voted in favour of the strike on 1st September. Respecting the essential service regulation under the Korean Labour Law, the workers have decided that 9,300 members of KPTU-KRWU will remain in service in order to maintain service levels.
The Korean government had taken a similar stand against union officials and members for participating in strikes at KORAIL in 2007. In 2009, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) recommended the immediate reinstatement of the 169 trade union officials from KORAIL who were dismissed owing to their participation in the November 2009 strike. The ILO also recommended lifting of disciplinary measures against the workers and keep it informed of any ongoing judicial proceedings, including at the Supreme Court.
The government is repeating its past actions, which have already been discredited. It is disregarding prior judgments that have recognized strikes as lawful. Any efforts to obstruct such strikes or penalize participating workers constitutes a violation of the fundamental right to freedom of association. We urge the Korean government to adhere to the recommendations set forth by the ILO and promptly communicate its intended actions regarding the potential criminalization of the forthcoming industrial action to the ILO's Committee on Freedom of Association.
At this critical juncture, when trade union rights are under open attack, when workers' rights are being curtailed, and when trade union activities are being criminalized, it is imperative that we unite in solidarity to support the KPTU-KRWU and their struggle for justice and workers' rights. We join the ITF and others in recognising that the KPTU-KRWU's strike is a legitimate response to threats of privatization and to promote the expansion of public services.