Korea: President Moon and a New Era for Korean Workers

The ITUC has welcomed commitments from newly-elected Korean President Moon Jae-in over workers’ rights, decent wages and job security, as well as his intention to look to the case of imprisoned trade union leader Han Sang-gyun, President of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, once the Supreme Court has made a final determination on his case.

Moon was elected after former President Park Geun-hye was deposed over a massive corruption case involving scandal-plagued multinational Samsung, in which she is now facing prosecution.

Following a meeting with President Moon in Seoul today, ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow said: “As a former human rights and labour lawyer, President Moon campaigned for a ‘nation that respects labour’. He reiterated his plans for Korea to ratify ILO Conventions 87 on freedom of association and 98 on collective bargaining, and these, along with his commitment to raise the minimum wage to ensure dignified lives for Korean workers, will lay the foundations for respect for the workers on which the national economy depends.

“His recognition that irregular work is not decent work is crucial in a country where workers are forced to accept precarious jobs, and his understanding that the right to organise for teachers and public sector workers are issues that need to be resolved, gives working people hope.

“We also pressed the case for reform of corporate rules, including relationships between corporations and their contractors, and asked him to take this matter to the G20 Summit in Hamburg. The ITUC 2017 Global Poll showed that people overwhelmingly support re-writing the rules of the global economy – with Korea the highest at 90 per cent.”

Burrow, along with ITUC Asia Pacific General Secretary Shoya Yoshida, met with local affiliates FKTU and KCTU, and welcomed the assurance of President Moon to engage in talks with the two union confederations.

“Social dialogue matters, and it works,” said Burrow. “We are looking to a new era in industrial relations in Korea, but we know that powerful business interests will try to frustrate progress. This means companies like Samsung, which refuses to recognise its workers’ right to union representation in the electronics sector and which is hiding behind so-called ‘trade secrets’ to avoid responsibility for workers who have been poisoned by chemicals it uses in its factories.”

In a message from the prison where he has been held since 2015 for organising public demonstrations, KCTU President Han said: “At the end of the candlelight revolution, both the leader of the union and the corrupt president are in jail, but while one is embittered, the other is full of hope for a new era of rights, just wages, corporate reform and decent work for the Korean people. I am motivated to bring justice at home in Korea, but also to extend solidarity to the struggles of others in the international family of the ITUC.”

Han was awarded the Febe Velasquez trade union rights award by Dutch trade union centre FNV at its Congress in May of this year