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[Editorial] Quit the Labor Confederation

Posted November. 07, 2009 08:40,   


The unions of the National Agricultural Products Quality Management Service, the Food, Agriculture and Fisheries Ministry, and the Environment Ministry will vote next week on whether to bolt from the progressive Korean Confederation of Trade Unions and the merged civil servants’ union. Around 4,300 government employees belong to the three unions and account for more than half of the 7,200 staff at central government agencies. If the three quit the confederation, the move will likely affect other civil servants’ unions as well.

The union of the National Election Commission has effectively started a procedure to quit the confederation. Most members of the commission’s union have left the union amid mounting criticism of the union’s joining of the confederation and the government’s threat to crack down on illegal union activities by public servants. The commission’s mandate is fair election management, and staff there have belatedly realized the problems with the union’s entry into a labor group closely affiliated with a political faction. The Constitution stipulates the obligation of government officials to maintain political neutrality as public servants. The Civil Servants Union Act also requires them to abide by a code of conduct and bans labor struggles and political activities. The labor confederation, which is politically biased, is unsuitable as an umbrella union for the civil servants’ union from every aspect.

Sohn Yeong-tae, head of the national civil servants union, pledged in September, “The civil servants union will be reborn as a merged union to keep in check the Lee Myung-bak administration.” Confederation chairman Lim Seong-kyu said, “I urge the civil servants’ union to adopt our umbrella union’s struggle against government oppression as one of your own,” urging government employees to step up the fight. It is fair to say that a civil servants’ call for “fighting” a democratically elected government can be construed as a challenge to the basic order of a democratic civil society.

In 1972, West Germany banned the employment of people who threatened basic democratic order as civil servants. The West German government said civil servants must proactively devote themselves to maintaining the basic order of a free democracy, calling it their legally binding duty. It also said, “The government should not hire applicants who violate the Constitution through their behavior, and the very fact that an applicant belongs to an organization that pursues such goals is justifiable grounds for suspecting that he or she cannot be devoted to the maintenance and preservation of the basic order of a free democracy.”

The labor confederation has taken part in a flurry of violent and illegal acts. If the civil servants’ union joins an organization that frequently breaks or circumvents laws, a fundamental pillar of the rule of law will be on shaky ground. All civil servants’ unions should follow the example of their counterparts at the Food Ministry, the National Agricultural Products Quality Management Service, and the Environment Ministry in breaking away from the militant confederation.