Documents show Park administration sought to crackdown on organized labor

Posted on : 2017-10-14 14:17 KST Modified on : 2017-10-14 14:17 KST
Aggressive tactics against workers’ unions were planned at Blue House meetings
Lee Byung-kee
Lee Byung-kee

An internal document from the Blue House during the presidency of Park Geun-hye that Democratic Party lawmaker Lee Jae-jeong gave the Hankyoreh on Oct. 12 shows that the Blue House mobilized all available resources and methods to aggressively crack down on organized labor. Records of the instructions given by the presidential chiefs of staff at the time (Lee Byung-kee and Lee Won-jong) during the meetings of secretaries and senior secretaries over which they presided between Apr. 2015 and Oct. 2016 show that most of the government policies aimed at pressuring labor unions under the previous administration – such as taking legal action, cutting off their flow of money and fomenting division between different unions – were routinely planned at the Blue House.

■ Funding and legal action: a carrot and stick for unions

During a meeting on Sept. 9, 2015, then presidential Chief of Staff Lee Byung-kee gave instructions for “government subsidies to be utilized as a strategic method while keeping an eye on the attitude, position and outlook of the FKTU [Federation of Korean Trade Unions] toward labor reform.” Lee was attempting to break the unions and force them to accept key government policies using legally mandated government funding.

When the FKTU declared the “breakdown of discussions in the tripartite commission” during a meeting of the Korea Tripartite Commission of Labor, Management and Government in April of that year, the Ministry of Employment and Labor only paid 1.03 billion won (US$ 914,000) of the 3.21 billion won (US$2.85 million) in allocated subsidies and cut off payments until Sept. 17, when it sent 725 million won (US$644,000) to the FKTU account. “It was a mean and dirty trick to use the government subsidies as a lure to promote their policy of so-called labor reform,” said a FKTU spokesperson.

During a meeting on Dec. 18 of the same year, Lee brought up the fact that the Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union (KTU) was raising “campaign funds” in addition to the regular membership dues. “Since they’re apparently receiving benefits when they file their taxes on the donations for their campaign fund, the National Tax Service should look into whether this is actually happening and whether it’s legal,” Lee said. Through this directive, Lee was attempting to squeeze the union’s supply of funding to restrict its activities.

The Blue House also sought to mobilize the judicial system in its suppression of union activities. During a meeting on Oct. 4, 2015, Lee said, “The KGEU [Korean Government Employees’ Union] is planning to hold an election for its chairperson soon. Accelerate the investigations of problematic figures who are suspected of breaking the law to prevent them from running for chairperson and inciting the KGEU to commit illegal activities.”

And on May 18 of the same year, when the Supreme Court was about to rule on a lawsuit about the Korean Migrants’ Trade Union’s application for official recognition as a union, which had been pending for seven years, Lee said, “Since this is an important matter that could cause confusion in policies about the foreign workforce if the government loses the case, related ministries, including the Ministry of Employment and Labor and the Justice Ministry, should respond by making appropriate lawsuits.”

■ Public opinion campaign and divisive tactics aimed at isolating the KCTU

A number of instructions were also given with the goal of isolating the KCTU [Korean Confederation of Trade Unions]. Before Maina Kiai, special rapporteur for the UN Human Rights Council, visited South Korea to assess the country’s human rights situation in Jan. 2016, Lee instructed the Ministry of Employment and Labor to “persuasively communicate the appropriateness and legitimacy of the government’s labor reform and provide a detailed explanation of political campaigns by the KCTU and other hardline unions and their efforts to protect their interests when making contact with the special rapporteur.”

Prior to that, on Dec. 9, 2015, Lee ordered that action be taken to prevent the unions at key workplaces from re-enrolling in the KCTU. This appears to show that the Blue House intended to manipulate the activity of labor unions even at companies in the private sector.

“Now that we’ve learned that the Blue House and the government were planning to suppress labor unions and keeping tabs on those efforts, we need to determine who was responsible and to see whether any illegal activity occurred,” Lee Jae-jeong said.

By Um Ji-won and Park Tae-woo, staff reporters

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