Here's the latest on the E-Land struggle, courtesy of the UNI commerce union page:
Last Saturday, E.Land workers blocked the entrance to the company's Pyongchon store, as part of the union's Zero-Sale campaign. Despite physical confrontations with riot police and thugs hired by the company as so-called strike breakers, the workers' campaign will continue.
- Is it right to terminate non-regular workers' contracts whenever the employer wants it? This was the text on the workers' banner. Their opinion is that this is not right, and the new law on protecting non-regular workers supports this view. The problem is that the law is flawed and some employers such as E.Land have never intended to apply it, using its many creepholes instead.
For the first time ever, Korean trade union confederation KCTU held an extraordinary Congress last weekend, to express its solidarity and support for the E.Land workers. The support will be concrete - a special fund was established to help the striking shop workers survive the long struggle.
These shop workers, who are mainly young women, have been on strike for two months already. Recently, their plight was further aggravated by their employer, who locked out all union members from four of their largest stores. This targeted lock-out, which is against all principles of fair labour relations, aims at forcing an end to the workers' struggle.
The E.Land workers' strike followed the company's announcement of mass dismissals targeted at its non-regular workers, who were supermarket cashiers, sales personnel and other retail employees. Instead, their jobs were to be outsourced, to allow E.Land to avoid giving them permanent employment contracts after two years of service, as required by a new law.
The two month long struggle has seen a close cooperation between the employers and the Korean government, with the aim of crushing the strike and destroying the E.Land workers' trade union. Heavily equipped riot police has physically put an end to sit-in strikes and workers have allegedly been harassed at police stations.
Workers should keep quiet and accept management decisions...
Other Korean employers are applauding from the sidelines. The Korea International Labour Foundation quotes Mr Kim Sang-ryul, vice chairman of the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry, on its website:
- A company leader has the right and duty to find ways to more efficiently run human resources. It is hard to understand employees demanding that management withdraw a decision by holding illegal demonstrations, Mr Kim has allegedly said at a business meeting.
- Some parts of Korean society seem to think that a company that converts non-regular workers into regular workers is “virtuous,” whereas a company that does not is “vicious,” the vice chairman said. Enforcement of the law designed to protect non-regular workers does not necessarily mean companies should change the status of all such workers, he said.
This is a rather peculiar interpretation of a law which the employers' organisations have participated in putting in place. It also raises serious questions about whether the Korean economy is developed enough to be able to compete freely on the global markets. Quite apparently, much work is still needed to bring the country's employers into the twenty-first century.
Actually, many large employers - both public and private - have found ways of regularising large amounts of non-regular workers. This includes also commerce employers. The resistance of Mr Park Song-suu and his E.Land chain can in fact signify that in addition to a bad attitude, the company may be seriously squeezed by banks who financed last years huge takeover of Carrefour's Korean operations.
Employers and government cooperate in union busting effort
Until now, international calls for the company and the Korean authorities to give up their shady union-busting cooperation and to sit down at the negotiating tables to find a solution to the E.Land conflict have not lead to any reactions. The Director General of the International Labour Organisation has written to the labour minister, demanding the government to act to release seven jailed trade union representatives, but apparently to no avail.
The E.Land conflict can be long. The workers and their trade union organisations are determined and will not allow E.Land's money to make the difference. This is why a Fund has been set up, to make sure that the 800 E.Land workers that are on strike or locked out because of their union membership can keep the roof over their heads and continue to feed their families.
UNI Commerce continues to support
UNI Commerce and its affiliates are doing their share to support the E.Land workers. US commerce affiliate UFCW, as well as the communications workers' union CWA have already contributed, as well as German UNI affiliate ver.di. The Nordic commerce unions are also participating in the effort, and have been financing important UNI Commerce project activities in the country for many years.
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