Constitutional Court declares act that denies unions by university professors is unconstitutional

Posted on : 2018-09-04 17:43 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Demands National Assembly has until 2020 to amend law
The Constitutional Court of Korea in Seoul
The Constitutional Court of Korea in Seoul

The Constitutional Court has ruled unconstitutional a provision in the Act on the Establishment and Operation of Teachers’ Unions denying recognition for the establishment of unions by university professors.

In a Sept. 3 announcement, the court said it had ruled in a seven-to-three decision on Aug. 30 that Article 2 of the act, which restricted its terms to elementary, middle, and high school teachers while denying university professors the right to organize, did not conform to the Constitution.

Noting that elementary and middle school teachers would also lose their legal grounds for union establishment if the provision in question was immediately suspended, the court decided to keep it in place until Mar. 21, 2020. The National Assembly has until then to amend the law.

By restricting the participants in union establishment to “teachers” as defined by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Teachers’ Union Act excludes university professors and lecturers from establishing unions. University professors have faced difficulties with establishing unions in the past because they are not subject to the Teachers’ Union Act terms.

The Constitutional Court actively recognized the need to extend the right to organize to professors and lecturers at national and public universities as well as private universities. In the case of private university professors, it noted changes in university practices, including “full-scale implementation of a contractual hiring system for professors, university restructuring, corporate expansion into universities, professors hired under short-term contracts, and the emergence of professors exclusively for lecturing.”

“Guarantees on the right to organize are necessary to improve the economic and societal standing of teachers, including wages, working conditions, and welfare,” the court said.


“The current professors’ associations don’t have the authority to negotiate with universities about improving working conditions, nor are they able to negotiate with the Education Ministry or other government bodies about working conditions,” the Constitutional Court said, emphasizing the need for a professors’ union. The court also addressed opponents who brought up the “special nature” of teaching staff: “One possibility would be recognizing the right to organize while placing this under stronger limitations than other types of unions.”

The court also dealt with professors at national and public universities. After mentioning the rapid reorganization taking place at universities, the court said that “The status, wages and other working conditions of university teaching staff who are public servants cannot be regarded as having a stronger legal guarantee than teaching staff in primary and secondary education.”

“It is not reasonable to completely deny the necessity of organizing to improve wages and other aspects of the status of teaching staff simply because of the existence of professors’ associations and other bodies designed to make decisions about research and education. There are few countries that do not even recognize the right to organize,” the court said.

When the Ministry of Employment and Labor refused to officially recognize the Korea Professor Union in 2015, the union filed an administrative lawsuit. During the trial, it filed a petition for a constitutional review of the relevant provision in the Act on the Establishment and Operation of Teachers’ Unions, and the court accepted this petition, leading to the Constitutional Court’s review.

“Without improving the working conditions of the workers known as professors, high-quality university education becomes impractical. The National Assembly needs to correct the problems with the Teachers’ Unions Act so that tertiary education can be done right,” Professors for Democracy said on Monday.

By Ko Han-sol, staff reporter

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