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Why the Maritime Labor Union has So Much to Say

Posted March. 17, 2005 23:08,   


Suspicion overt the corruption of the Maritime Labor Union isn’t just a recent phenomenon.

Maritime Labor Unions have exercised monopoly over the cargo-work done on ports, and have wielded immense power due to a peculiar system, known as the “Closed Shop” system, that only allows members of the union to work on ports. There have been continuous corruption scandals in the process.

In the mid-1870s, Japan forced the opening of Busan port, while providing the labor union with exclusive rights to supply labor manpower on harbors. This was done to minimize Korean repulsion, and to gain the public’s support.

Such monopoly was carried out even after the Stevedores’ Union transformed itself to the modern “Busan Stevedores’ Union of the Korean Labor Union Federation.”

The “Closed Shop” system has also allowed the executives of the labor union to exercise full power over labor employment and transfer.

On top of that, while employers are diversely distributed in sectors that, for example, separately deal with cargo-work, shipment, and bonded processing, labor unions tend to form a single body that better reinforces them.

In numbers, current members of the Maritime Labor Union are estimated to be at around 30,000 across the country, including about 9,000 in Busan. The chief of the Maritime Labor Union is elected by the votes of delegates.

Labor unions have maintained their ground by suspending operations or by going on strike whenever a certain matter didn’t seem to go their way.

In one case, the Busan Maritime Labor Union received a total of 25.9 billion won in the form of damage compensation from terminal management businesses, over a course of six rounds from 1978 to 2002, but has been facing allegations such as embezzlement amounting to billions of won.

The average pay for a labor union member in Incheon is said to be around 2.87 million won per month, reaching an annual salary of 34.4 million won.

Dong-Bin Seok Jun-Ho Cha mobidic@donga.com run-juno@donga.com