Court says illegal workers can set up union

Posted on : 2007-02-02 14:56 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Migrant laborers win right to organize

As South Korean court has ruled that illegal migrant workers should be allowed to set up labor unions.

On February 1, the Seoul High Court overturned a ruling that gave a government labor agency permission to prevent illegal foreign workers from organizing.

"Illegal migrant workers can form a labor union and gain access into existing unions," the court said in a statement. "The Seoul Regional Labor Office, with no authority to check a union member’s legal status, illegally asked the union to produce a list of its members" - no doubt a move to try to verify the legal status of its members.

"When the union rejected to do so, the agency prevented them from setting up a union. That is illegal," the court statement continued.

In May 2005, the Migrants’ Trade Union submitted an application for union registration to the Seoul Regional Labor Office. However, it was rejected for having illegal migrant workers listed among its members. The union in turn filed a lawsuit against the government agency.

In February last year, the Seoul Administration Court ruled in favor of the government labor agency, saying illegal migrant workers have no right to form a labor union.

However, the appellate court said, "Even though they are illegal migrant workers, they are workers that can form a labor union because they work here and are paid in South Korea," citing the constitutional guarantee of the status of foreigners. In addition, current labor laws ban discriminative measures between domestic and foreign workers. "It is difficult for us to see how, under current immigration law, illegal migrant workers can be prevented from forming a labor union," the court said.

Lee Jeong-won, an official at the Migrants’ Trade Union, said, "The Seoul Labor Agency should immediately recognize the Migrants’ Trade Union."

Woo Sam-yeol, an official at an organization for migrant workers, said, "This ruling is fair because the nation’s top court [in an earlier case] recognized the labor status of illegal migrant workers."

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