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Should Professors’ Union Be Legalized?

Posted November. 08, 2005 07:25,   


“The existing Teachers’ Union Act has an equitability issue because teachers who are not covered by the Primary and Secondary Education Act are excluded. We should allow university professors to form a labor union to make it possible for them as workers to improve their working conditions and enhance their economic and social status,” said lawmaker Rep. Lee to explain the rationale for amending the Teachers Union Act.

The amendment also eases the existing provision that allows the employment of full-time union officials with the permission of officials in charge of employment of teachers. The draft allows the employment of full-time union officials by an agreement by officials in charge of employing teachers or collective agreement.

However, the amendment draft bans political activities, strikes and sabotage by the professors’ union, as is the case with the teachers union.

If the draft is approved, it will become possible for professors, associate professors, assistant professors and full-time lecturers to establish a union and reach a collective agreement with the government or university foundations on salary, working conditions, and benefits.

Allowing political activities is the key-

The professors union’s stance is that professors are salaried workers and that they should participate in establishing the university educational policy in an organized manner. Although it does not request a right to strike on the level of ordinary labor unions, it does demand a guarantee of freedom for political activities.

“It is inconsistent to allow political activities by individual professors, but ban such activities on a union level,” said Noh Joong-ki, a professor at Hanshin University and the external affairs director of the professors union.

Rep. Dan Byung-ho of the Democratic Labor Party is also discussing a submission of another revision draft which guarantees their political activities with the professors’ union.

Opposition from private education organizations-

“Because professors are provided with academic freedom and are unlimited in terms of managing school affairs, their rights are different from basic rights of ordinary workers,” according to a statement from the Korea Association of Universities.

The organization also said that if a professors union is formed to promote professors’ interests, it is no different from a pressure group, which means it will be unrelated to the basic rights of workers.

“Just like we cannot violate teachers’ authority with the right to manage private schools, one should not violate management rights with public features of education,” said the association’s secretary general, Song Young-shik. “We need to have the right understanding of reality, which is that primary and secondary education is being ruined by the teachers union.”

A professors’ union-

Founded back in 2001 as an outlaw organization, the professors union currently has 1,100 members. The body filed an application to establish a union with the Ministry of Labor on October 7. But the ministry rejected the application, saying that it is against the existing law.

In response, the professors union filed a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission of Korea on October 24, saying that it is “discrimination against workers in the education sector.”

In-Chul Lee inchul@donga.com