Korea: ITUC Demands Immediate Release of KCTU General Secretary

On 24 May, 30 persons, including Mr Yoo, Ki-soo, General Secretary of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions and Mr Ahn, Hyun-ho, Publications Director of the Korean Government Employees Union, were arrested during a demonstration calling on the government of Korea to take responsibility for the Sewol Ferry Disaster, in which nearly 300 died. Korean unions argue that the disaster was the result of ongoing deregulation and poor government oversight of industrial health and safety.

The demonstration followed a candlelight vigil organized by the "Korean People’s Council for Measures on the Sewol Ferry Disaster" in which trade unions participated.

“The government’s decision to arrest trade union leaders for participation in a peaceful rally is an egregious violation of the right to freedom of association. Union participation in the rally, march and candlelight vigil were undoubtedly protected trade union activity under international law and cannot therefore serve as the basis for the arrest or continued detention of Mr. Yoo,” said Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary. “We call on the government to immediately release Mr Yoo, Mr Ahn and all others who were arrested with them, and to drop all charges now.”

In Korea, labour leaders and activists are imprisoned for engaging in industrial action that would be legal elsewhere in the world. The government does so despite repeated and clear direction from the International Labour Organization to bring the law, particularly the obstruction of business clause of the Penal Code, into line immediately with principles of freedom of association. The arrests and imprisonments are often compounded by strike compensation lawsuits against unions and individuals with no purpose other than to bankrupt them.