Monday, October 29, 2007

Industrial unionism chalking up gains fast

Here is a news brief from the PSI international union about the recent gains made in the Korean medical sector, where industrial level negotiations have led to mass 'regularization' of irregular workers, agreements on equal pay for equal work for those not yet included in such agreements, and the establishment of new sectorial tripartite committees to work on solving the problem of irregular and to further enshrine industrial collective bargaining rights and practices.

The Korean Health & Medical Workers Union (KHMU), a PSI affiliate, and the Korean Health & Medical Employers Association (KHMEA) signed the 2007 collective agreement on 19th October. The 2007 collective bargaining has attracted social attention and public concern in terms of finding a collective solution to the problem of irregular workers.

KHMU leadership led by Chung Hae-sun, first vice-president (substitute for president Hong Myung-ok who is hospitalized due to health problem) and KHMEA negotiation group led by Lee Sung-shik (director of Sowha Children Hospital) participated in the signing ceremony. Since the 2007 CBA between KHMU and KHMEA at industrial level was agreed on 6 July at industrial level, supplementary bargaining at local (hospital) level have been concluded up to now.

In the CBA, KHMU and KHMEA agreed that wages should be increased by 4.0~5.3%, and that 1.3~1.8% out of the wage increase rate be spent in improvement of working conditions of irregular workers and eliminating relevant discrimination against them.

Since the July agreement, 2,384 irregular workers (involved in full-time jobs) working in 67 hospitals have gained the status of regular workers. Around 80% of irregular workers directly employed by the hospitals have become permanent workers. In addition, 1,541 irregular workers in 42 hospitals are covered by the CBA article of non-discrimination saying “non-irregular workers who do the same job as regular workers do shall be applied with the same wage and working conditions”. Also, working conditions and treatment of 1,285 irregular workers in 11 hospitals have been improved.

Since the July agreement, the proportion of irregular workers in KHMU-unionized 150 hospitals has dropped from 20.4% to 16.8%. In private university hospitals, it is estimated that 1.8% out of 5.3% wage increase has been used for improving the status and conditions of irregular workers, requiring 3.23 billion won (USD 35.8 million).

After the signing ceremony, KHMU is planning to discuss the matters of follow-up policy for irregular workers and effective operation of industrial bargaining in ‘National Labor-Management Council’ and ‘Special Committee on Irregular Workers’ established by the CBA. Also, KHMU is going to urge the Ministry of Welfare and the Ministry of Labor to participate in ‘National Tripartite special Committee for Hospital Sector’ which was also agreed in the CBA.

In the successful conclusion of 2007 collective negotiation, KHMU is supposed to focus on developing union strategies on wage, employment, public heath system as bargaining agenda of industrial unionism. On the other hand, KHMU is preparing for various events celebrating its 10th anniversary as industrial union such as publication of the 10th anniversary white book and picture reports, holding of international conference on heath system and working conditions of hospital workers (26 February, 2008), and organizing of national workshop on industrial unionism.

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