ICFTU OnLine 156/000704/DD
Trade Union Relations near total break-down in Korea
Brussels July 4 2000 (ICFTU OnLine): "Government-trade union relations are in danger of breaking down completely leading to the most serious social unrest since the Asian crisis of autumn 1997", said the ICFTU today commenting on the detention of thousands of trade unionists during the last three days.
"The latest development in Korea's industrial relations' climate confirm our worst fears... that your government has once more embarked on the path of repression and violence to deal with strikes and other legitimate trade union action" said the ICFTU in a letter to President Kim Dae-jung today (July 4).
In what appears to be an orchestrated campaign police have been storming buildings in the city where workers have been on peaceful sit-ins, brutally attacking and gassing strikers and detaining more than 2000 people.
Lotte Hotel Dispute The first incident occurred on June 29, when 3000 police wielding batons and using smoke bombs stormed the Lotte Hotel in Seoul injuring at least 33 workers, and gassing many others, including ten pregnant women. The police then attacked other workers who had come to the aid of their colleagues.
The police raid occurred after members of the Lotte Hotel Workers Union (which is a member of the KCTU, an ICFTU affiliate) had been on strike since June 9, demanding a wage increase and improvements in working conditions.
When the detained workers were released on July 1, just before the expiry of the 48 hour legal detention period, the police charged seven union leaders, three of whom have to remain in detention, for "obstruction of business". This is particularly ironic, considering that during the recent South-North Korean Summit the union temporarily suspended its strike and assisted at the Hotel Press Centre.
National Health Insurance Corporation Workers The second police raid occurred on July 1, when 3000 police stormed the National Health Insurance Corporation building, breaking down doors and windows and firing tear gas at more than 1,600 members of the KCTU-affiliated NHICW who were holding a sit-in. Workers had been on strike since June 28, as part of a collective bargaining campaign.
The police dragged away 1,600 strikers, and held them at 20 police stations around Seoul, which had just been vacated by the Lotte Hotel detainees. Again most were released before the expiry of the 48-hour legal detention period, but police issued arrest warrants against 38 unionists. Nine unionists, including the union President were charged and remain in custody for obstruction of business and for allegedly holding members of management captive (during management-union negotiations the night before).
Fear of further police action at the Finance Industry Unions Given the clear policy of clamp-downs on union activity, the ICFTU fears further police brutality and mass arrests during a forthcoming strike by the FKTU-affiliated Korean Finance Industry Union on July 11. This strike has been called in protest at government plans to restructure the finance sector, and to demand a collective bargaining agreement for the finance industry, and an improvement in working conditions.
The ICFTU has written to President Kim Dae-jung strongly condemning the massive arrests and brutal treatment of strikers by the police. In the letter to the President, ICFTU General Secretary Bill Jordan says that the ICFTU will be approaching the European Union, the OECD and other international organisations asking them to take measures to put pressure on Korea until it ceases its current violations of international labour standards.
The ICFTU is also requesting its affiliated organisations to ask their governments to use their diplomatic, political and economic contacts to put an end to the Korean government's treatment of strikers. It is also asking International Trade Secretariats to contact employers involved in the Lotte Hotel and the National Health Insurance Corporation over the incidents.
For further details please contact ICFTU Press Department on: ++322 224 0212