Nov. 13. (by Kim Bong-gyu
By Lee Kyung-mi, staff reporter
A court put a halt to efforts by the government to revoke the official union status of the Korea Teachers and Education Workers’ Union (KTU).
In the view of the court, the government action to revoke the union’s status may be a violation of the law, and could have a negative influence on teaching in the classroom.
The government made its decision because nine of the KTU’s 60,000 members teachers that are currently unemployed. On Nov. 13, the Seoul administrative court (division 13, Ban Jeong-woo presiding) countermanded the government’s decision, ruling that the union will retain its legal status for now.
The ruling came in a petition that the KTU filed against the Ministry of Employment and Labor. “The ministry’s decision may not be enforced until the lower court makes a ruling in the lawsuit in question,” the court said.
As a result of the decision, the KTU will maintain its current status, at least until decisions are made by a lower court and the Constitutional Court in a lawsuit about the legality of the ministry’s decision to revoke the KTU’s official union status.
The ruling puts the breaks on the anti-union policies that began early in the administration of President Park Geun-hye, at least for the moment. It also shows that there was no solid legal foundation for the administration’s concerted efforts to repress labor. The ruling suggests that certain aspects of the administration’s actions were hasty and ill-conceived■ Putting a halt to ideological anti-labor policies
Until this ruling, nothing had stopped the government from taking action directed against labor unions. There were indications that the government would accept the notification of establishment submitted by the Korean Government Employees’ Union (KGEU), which has more than 130,000 members, but this was rejected in August.
The following month, the government declared that the Korea Teachers and Education Workers’ Union (KTU) is not a legal union, despite its 60,000 members.
In addition to this, government prosecutors conducted a search and seizure operation on the offices of the KGEU on Nov. 8, suspecting the union of interfering in last December’s presidential election.
These are the reasons why experts believe this injunction to be important. “The court put the brakes on government efforts to turn back the clock by denying workers the right to organize,” said Cho Don-mun, professor of sociology at the Catholic University of Korea.
Yun Ae-rim, law professor at the Korea National Open University, noted, “other than Korea, there are no OECD member countries that prevent teachers from forming unions.”
“Labor, management, and the government came to an agreement in 1998 that recognized teachers’ right to organize, but the government did not keep its word. This decision raises the alarm about such government policies.”
Labor activists argue that there is a fundamental difference in the way that former president Lee Myung-bak and current president Park Geun-hye oppress labor. While the Lee administration carried out anti-union policies in the name of the economy, the current administration puts forward ideology and politics as the reasons for these policies.
During the Lee administration, labor issues generally involved conflicts between workers and employers. During the Park administration, however, state institutions have led the attack challenging the very foundations of labor unions.
“This administration adopts a conservative approach to policymaking, and it regards public servants and even teachers as people who must be controlled and managed,” said Lee Byeong-hun, professor of sociology at Chung-Ang University.
“The type of labor oppression carried out by this administration is different from the previous one in the sense that its political decisions are ideologically motivated.”
“It’s fortunate that the court has put a halt to this behavior, even if it is only temporary.”
■ All eyes on results of main lawsuit and appeal to the Constitutional Court
As Lee suggested, the decision by the court merely buys time for the union. It will likely be at least a couple of months before a ruling is made in the main lawsuit that the KTU filed on Oct. 24 to reverse the ministry’s decision along with its petition to suspend execution of the decision. If the KTU loses that lawsuit, it would once again lose its official union status.
Observers are also interested in the results of the petition filed with the Constitutional Court on Oct. 2. In the petition, the KTU took issue with the sections of labor law, including Article 2 of the law about teacher unions, which prevent dismissed teachers from joining unions.
These sections, the union argued, violate the right of equality and the right for workers to organize that are guaranteed in the constitution. The KTU petition also made the case that Article 9 Clause 2 of the enforcement decree for the labor law is actually “a law above the law” that lacks any legal basis.
The ruling by the Constitutional Court will also determine the fate of the government employees union, which has not yet received certification as a union for the same reason as the teachers’ union.
“Considering that we have not raised any other legal questions, we are closely following the results of the KTU’s petition to the Constitutional Court,” said KGEU spokesperson Jeong Yong-cheon.
Another item of interest is how the Committee on Freedom of Association, which is part of the International Labour Organization (ILO), will deal with the lawsuit that the KTU has filed against the South Korean government.
While the court’s decision may have restored the KTU to its former position for now, the union remains on alert. The union is continuing work on a project to switch the method by which members pay their dues. Formerly, dues were deducted from teachers’ salaries, but under the new system they will be paid via bank transfer.
The KTU is also planning to reinforce the organization’s power through elections for chapter heads and representatives, which are scheduled for December.
“We will continue our fight against the systems and customs that conflict with the true value of education, which we have worked to protect for the past 25 years,” said KTU spokesperson Ha Byeong-su.
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