ILO openly calls for S. Korea’s ratification of conventions before proceeding with legislation

Posted on : 2019-05-10 15:36 KST Modified on : 2019-05-10 15:36 KST
Changes from stance that issue is matter for individual countries to decide
Corinne Vargha
Corinne Vargha

The International Labour Organization (ILO) openly called on the South Korean government to ratify key conventions before proceeding with related legislation.

Coming amid conflicts over the methods of ratifying the conventions, the ILO’s message stressed that advancements in the protection of worker rights would be delayed further if “ratification of key conventions is delayed until the legislation has been perfected and all the interested parties are satisfied.”

In the past, the ILO has maintained that the sequence of ratification and related legislation is a matter for individual countries to decide. But its latest message is seen as effectively insisting that South Korea move first to ratify as related discussions remain bogged down.

Corinne Vargha, who oversees key conventions and other international labor standards as director of the ILO’s International Labour Standards Department, shared the message in a special speech at a symposium organized by the Seoul Bar Association and the Hamil Labor Law Research Institute on the topic of “ideas for ratifying ILO core conventions to practically guarantee basic worker rights” on May 9. Delivering the message by video in lieu of attending, Vargha explained, “Ratification is a matter of accepting that [compliance with international labor standards] will be judged by the same standards [as other countries] and expressing and pledging a commitment to participate before the international community.”

“The key element is the promise, which can be adjusted based on ongoing changes in terms of jobs, work, and labor relations,” she stressed.

Vargha also expressed that there would be time to adjust the legal system once the conventions have been ratified.

“Even when countries make a clear promise to implement [the conventions], they are guaranteed sufficient time to make the final revisions in areas that are complex and require additional examination,” she said.

“International labor standards inherently recognize a one-year grace period between when the conventions are ratified and when they go into effect,” she added, stressing that the key priority is for the South Korean government to show its commitment by pledging to uphold international labor standards, after which related legislative issues can be resolved over the course of the one-year grace period following ratification.

The South Korean government is currently maintaining that prior legislation is needed before ratification of the core conventions, including Conventions 87 and 98 concerning freedom of association. Its favored approach is to first amend laws related to the conventions, after which ratification can be pursued. But views on amending the Trade Union and Labor Relations Adjustment Act and other related laws remain sharply divided between labor and management; meanwhile, the National Assembly has yet to make any progress on the issue. The European Union, which has a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with South Korea, is currently citing labor rights provisions as a basis for pressuring South Korea to ratify the ILO conventions.

Vargha’s remarks were seen as a reflection of the current situation in South Korea. Lee Yong-woo, a human rights director for the Seoul Bar Association who organized the symposium, explained, “The ILO is an organization in which labor, management, and the government are all represented, and I have heard that they held very careful discussions on what position to state here.”

“While it is not a decision by the general meeting or board of directions, this open proposal carries some weight,” Lee said.

Ratification of core conventions is a path out of conflict

Vargha also suggested ratification of the core conventions might offer a path out of conflict.

“South Korea has undergone a [special] review through the Freedom of Association Committee within the complaint-based procedural framework, which centers on disputes and conflict,” she noted.

“But even when they have some remaining technical issues, countries that have ratified the conventions are able to explain their issues through the ILO oversight organization’s regular review procedures and receive alternative suggestions regarding enforcement of the conventions,” she said.

Ryu Mi-gyeong, who heads the international department for the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, said, “A special review could be seen as a form of stigma branding us as a country violating international labor standards, which also means we can escape that sort of embarrassment by ratifying core conventions.”

By Cho Hye-jeong, staff reporter

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