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Korea: KCTU Calls Warning Strike Against Proposed Laws to Facilitate Casualization

Posted to the IUF website 01-Apr-2005

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UPDATE! Unions responded enthusiastically to the KCTU call for industrial and protest action. Union organizers originally anticipated that some 100,000 union members would take part, but the KCTU estimates that some 160,000 workers took action. An estimated 120,000 workers at 231 workplaces responded to the strike call, with thousands of others engaging in some form of workplace protest. IUF affiliates in services, production and sales were among those who stopped work for four hours.

The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) called on 100,000 of its members to stop work for four hours on April 1 to signal workers' opposition to two legislative proposals in the National Assembly. The two bills are framed in the language of “protecting” agency-dispatched workers and fixed-term contract workers, but the KCTU argues that enactment of the bills will clear the way for accelerated casualization of Korea’s workforce. Some 60 percent of all Korean workers are now employed on "temporary" or "irregular" contracts.

The warning strike is part of the two-fold union struggle to reverse casualization. In addition to resisting legislation that would further undermine union strength by reducing permanent employment, KCTU affiliates are using their bargaining strength at plant level to gain regular status for casual employees. Casualization was the core issue in the successful 74-day strike waged at Seoul's Lotte Hotel in 2000. Last year, unions at the Coca-Cola Korea Bottling Company were successful in contract negotiations to achieve permanent status for casual workers (for more information click here).

As part of the KCTU mobilization, the IUF hotel, restaurant, catering and tourism affiliate KFSU plans a mass rally before joining up with the Seoul-area KCTU demonstration in front of the National Assembly. In food and beverage, the KCTU Coca-Cola Workers Unions (currently in the process of affiliating to the IUF) will stop production for two hours to hold a rally opposing enactment of the laws and then join the KCTU demonstrations in Seoul and South Kyeongsang Province in the afternoon. The IUF secretariat sent solidarity messages to the affiliates and the confederation.

The Korean Ministry of Labor has declared the industrial action an illegal political strike and stated that it will deal severely with strike participants.