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Korean Government Employees Union, Government Headed for Collision

Korean Government Employees Union, Government Headed for Collision

Posted August. 23, 2004 21:57,   


The government and the ruling Uri Party have decided on a Government Employee Labor Union bill which will guarantee the right to form a union and the right to group negotiations, but not acknowledge the right for group action to government workers ranked below sixth class. After announcing the bill’s legislation sometime this week, they will submit the bill to the National Assembly next month.

Nevertheless, the Korean Government Employees Union (KGEU), which is technically outside the periphery of the law, has strongly opposed the bill while the government is determined to pass the bill as it is, so there will be confrontations while legislating the new bill. The ruling party consulted with the government, and they agreed to allow the right to form a union and the right for group negotiations, but have left out the right for group action, or the right to strike, and the bill will be effective a year after it is promulgated.

The subject of group negotiations, a point in dispute, has been stipulated as “wages, welfare and other issues regarding working conditions.” Furthermore, it is also stipulated that “however, agreements reached on laws, regulations, and the budget through group negotiations do not have any legal validity but the government has the duty to faithfully follow the agreement.” In other words, in the case of the wages of government employees, which is directly related to the governmental budget, even if the government and the union agree on raising wages, if the National Assembly rejects the raise, then the agreement will be nullified.

The bill will not grant the labor union the right to strike, which has been continuously demanded by the union, because of fears of interrupting administrative services or even paralyzing the functions of the state. If the labor union strikes, the members responsible will face a maximum five-year jail sentence or a maximum 50 million won fine.

Only administrative government employees below sixth class or those with a similar class working under contract, functional workers, or those hired for a certain period of time will be permitted to join the labor union. The number of government employees eligible to join the union is estimated to be between 300,000 and 350,000. Government employees with special tasks such as police, soldiers, and diplomats are excluded from joining the union, and neither can workers of the Korean National Railroad or functional workers of the Ministry of Information and Communications because they are under the jurisdiction of another labor union law.

The spokesperson of the KGEU has commented on this aspect, saying, “If the government pushes through the legislation of the new bill by ignoring the 13,000 union members, it will face strong opposition from the KGEU such as an indefinite general strike.”

In addition, spokesperson Chung demanded the three rights of labor through amending the existing labor union law rather than legislating a new bill, allowing fifth-class government employees to join the union, and paying for full-time union members.

The KGEU held a general meeting of representatives on August 21 and decided, “When the bill is submitted to the vice-minister meeting, we will start relay-visits on the related ministries and will continue to create strife by coming to and leaving work on an exact schedule and stick exactly to lunch hours.” In addition, the KGEU declared that if the bill were submitted to the National Assembly Standing Committee, it would start an indefinite general strike.

In response, Prime Minister Lee Hae-chan said on the same day, “In my judgment, the decision of the KGEU to gather 10 billion won for a strike fund is a declaration to commit an illegal act. I will not tolerate illegal actions from government employees who have their social status and retiring age guaranteed, and illegal actions will be punished according to the law.”

A government official emphasized, “Except for Britain and France, which allow limited group action, most countries forbid the strike of government employees. The legislation of the bill was not possible last year due to the opposition of unions, but this year, the government and the ruling party have reached an agreement, so it will be certainly legislated.”

Jong-Hoon Lee taylor55@donga.com