The Guardian June 20, 2001


South Korea unions call for international solidarity

Korean construction and transport workers are involved in a bitter 
battle for recognition of the trade union representing ready mix truck 
drivers. The employers have refused to recognise their union and negotiate 
a collective enterprise agreement. Many workers have been on strike since 
April. The Korean unions and workers are calling for international trade 
union solidarity.

Dozens of workers have been bashed and detained by thugs engaged by the 
employers and by riot police.

There are presently hundreds of workers involved in a "sit-in" outside the 
National Parliament appealing to the government to intervene and assist 
their struggle for justice.

The Korean Construction Transportation Trade Union (KCTTU), affiliated to 
the left-wing Korea Federation of Construction Industry Trade Union 
(KFCITU), was formed in August 2000.

Its members used to be employees of concrete companies. In the early 1990s 
the companies sold the trucks to drivers and forced them to sign individual 
contracts with a company.

When the KCTTU applied for registration the concrete companies argued the 
union's members were not workers but contractors and hence it should not be 
registered. The KCTTU application was successful and the union now has 
thousands of members across South Korea.

The employer group, which has strong links with the government and military 
has, contrary to the law, continually refused to recognise or negotiate an 
enterprise agreement with the union.

The KCTTU has been on strike since April 9 in support of five fundamental 
demands:

1. Recognition of the union
2. A day off on Sunday
3. Overtime rates of pay
4. Repeal of individual contracts and negotiation of an enterprise 
agreement
5. Better delivery rates

So far over 500 workers have been dismissed, over 50 workers injured, over 
70 workers charged and one unionist imprisoned.

The sit-in commenced on May 24, with 350 vehicles, including 50 ready mixed 
trucks assembled in support of the workers. There have been numerous 
rallies and demonstrations in front of the companies' and government's 
buildings.

The President of the KCTTU Jang, Moon-Kee has been on hunger strike in 
front of Parliament since May 28.

The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, Transport Workers' 
Union and Korean Resource Centre are organising a solidarity action for the 
Korean workers on Wednesday June 20, outside the Korean Consulate in 
Sydney.

The workers are tired and desperate.

General strike

A walkout on Tuesday morning last week by the Korean Confederation of Trade 
Unions (KCTU), saw thousands of workers gathered in downtown Seoul to 
protest against the government's corporate reforms.

The unions were demanding an end to the government's corporate 
restructuring efforts which are leading to massive lay-offs.

The KCTU said that more than 50,000 workers from 125 workplaces took part 
in the indefinite general strike.

As part of the nation-wide strike, unionised pilots at South Korea's 
carrier Korean Air Lines began a massive strike on the same morning, 
grounding most of the airline's fleet of 111 planes. Ground workers at 
South Korea's second-ranked Asiana Airlines also walked out, affecting the 
carrier's domestic flights.

Militant South Korean unions in metal, chemical and heavy industrial 
companies also downed tools, defying the government's declaration that to 
strike was illegal and threats of severe punishment.

The KCTU also said that workers in large hospitals had walked off their 
jobs. Park Ha Soon, director for external relations from the KCTU said that 
the government policy served the multinationals: "it's not for the workers 
and we are against it". He added that the strike could last for 25 days.

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