Monday, October 29, 2007

two suicides

CINA blog has two stories of note on two suicides that highlight the problem about the high level of economic inequality and systemic brutality experienced by irregular workers and self-employed venders in South Korea.

The first is from a rally by striking irregular construction workers in Incheon on Sunday where one worker immolated himself in protest. As well documented on this site, the struggles of Korean construction workers have been some of the most difficult and intense of the last few years. In addition, and unlike action in other sectors as reported below, there remains complete government inaction here.

The second, comes after the brutal clearance of vendors in the city of Goyang, by hired thugs and city officials. The VOP international new site has a story on the repression there and CINA follows up with a few extra pictures from other sources.

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.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Metalworker's union embraces migrants

From today' s Hankyoreh:

[Editorial] Metalworkers union’s embrace of migrant workers

The metalworkers union under the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU, Minju Nochong) [as opposed to the metalworkers union under Hanguk Nochong] has decided to include migrant laborers as union members. This is something that gets your attention. Yesterday, the union’s central committee decided to conduct a comprehensive field study of migrant workers in workplaces under KCTU membership. The idea is to look into their pay and other working conditions, and see what obstacles they face in joining unions. The metalworkers union has already changed its organizational rules to allow migrant workers to join as full members, and allot a certain ratio of union positions to them.

Having migrant workers be part of the union will not only lead to improvements in the poor working conditions they face, but will also play a big role in building up the union’s negotiating power. The case of the union branch at Samu Precision Industries is a good example of how embracing migrant workers helps both Korean and migrant workers. The company had only 41 Korean union members. However, the place became a “union shop” in July, meaning that everyone becomes a member of the union when they become employees, which led to 22 migrant laborers becoming members of the union. This in turn led to significant improvements in the conditions faced by migrant workers there, and they came to enjoy more stable employment. The union’s negotiating power grew a lot as well when everyone became members.

Migrant workers in Korea still do not have the right to form labor unions. In 2005, approximately one hundred migrant workers in the Seoul-Gyeonggi-Incheon region filed the paperwork for forming a regional union, but the Ministry of Labor rejected their application. A court later sided with the workers, but the ministry has appealed and the case is awaiting a final decision from the Supreme Court. Even if they get a legal regional union, however, it will be hard for them to operate at and around actual worksites. This is why it is so significant that a union specific to an industry is trying to directly embrace migrant workers.

There are 480,000 migrant laborers working in our country right now, 3.2 percent of all paid laborers. Before you even realized it, their numbers have grown to the point where they are a pillar of our economy. Treating them in a manner consistent with internationally and universally recognized labor norms is important not only in terms of civil rights, but something also needed to make for more efficient labor. There remain some workers who have a negative view of migrant laborers, saying they are stealing jobs. However, the work that is actually being done is different, so the competition is not serious and it should be remembered that the poor treatment they receive is a factor that works against the pay levels of Korean workers. Also, it is time that employers, for their part, be proactive about improving treatment for migrant workers, as a way to increase productivity.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

E-Land/Newcore workers occupy Ministry of Labour

While scanning the MOL site for some documents earlier today I found this short article. I haven't heard much lately on the Newcore and KTX struggles except that some grassroots unions are dismayed that there hasn't been more solidarity. There seems to be a cycle to these things were the larger unions/union militants promise a much larger mobilization than happens in the end.

New Core workers occupy labor office

A small group of unionized workers at New Core Co. occupied the office of the Seoul branch head of the Labor Ministry yesterday afternoon, protesting against the prolonged deadlock in the conflict surrounding nonregular workers.

Shortly after storming into the office in downtown Seoul, the outlet union released a statement, vowing to continue their protest until the government scraps the revised law on nonregular workers and takes more responsibility to solve the dispute.

"After launching the strike in June, we've done our best for the early resolution of the situation, but the company and the government have not showed sincere attitudes to our desperate demands," the statement said.

Police asked for voluntary dispersal of unionists occupying the office. Some 250 more unionists from New Core were demonstrating outside the building to support the illegal occupation.

By Ahn Hyo-lim