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Stop New Repression of Migrants Union in Korea

Posted to the IUF website 12-May-2008

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The recently-elected government of Korean president Lee Myeong-bak is continuing the previous government's policy of relentless repression against the rights of the country's hundreds of thousands of migrant workers. Since its founding in 2005, the Migrants' Trade Union (MTU, affiliated to the KCTU) has fought for the right to collectively represent and negotiate on behalf of migrant workers at the workplace. The MTU's struggle against discrimination, workplace abuses and anti-immigrant government policies has evoked only harassment, arrests and deportations on the part of the government – despite a February, 2007 ruling by the Seoul High Court which declared illegal the government's rejection of the union's notification of establishment.

Last November, the MTU President, Vice-President and General Secretary were arrested in a coordinated police sweep and forcibly deported. The three had been adopted by Amnesty International as "prisoners of conscience", calling their arrests "an attempt by the Government to deprive them of their basic labour rights protected in the South Korean constitution, including the right to freedom of association", and "an assault on the human rights of migrant workers.

The MTU, KCTU and supporters fought back with a 99-day sit-in in support of migrant workers rights and the MTU, and on April 6, a new leadership was elected. Less than a month later – on May 2 - MTU President Torna Limbu and Vice President Abdus Sabur were arrested and – like the previous leadership – face forcible deportation to their home countries.

President Lee Myeong-bak has indicated that he will not tolerate trade union rights and recognition for migrant workers. The Labour Ministry has appealed last year's High Court decision to the Supreme Court, contending that migrant workers' right to union representation is not established in either Korean or international law. A judgment is expected later this year. In the meantime, the policy is one of arrests of union rights activists and a renewed crackdown on migrant workers generally.

International pressure is urgently needed to free the arrested MTU leaders. You can support the struggle for migrant workers' rights by writing to the South Korean Minister of Justice. The message below can serve as a sample. Kindly send copies of any messages you send to the IUF. We thank you in advance for your solidarity and support.

Sample Message to the Government of Korea

Ministry of Justice, Republic of Korea
Building 1, Gwacheon Government Complex,
Jungang-dong 1, Gwacheon-si, Gyeonggi-do
Republic of Korea
Fax: 82-2-2110-3079

Commissioner of Korean Immigration Service
Fax: 82-2-500-9059, 82-2-500-9128, 82-2-500-9026

To the South Korean Minister of Justice Kim Gyeong-han:

Dear Minister,

I write to protest the May 2 arrests of President Torna Limbu and Vice President Abdus Sabur of the Seoul-Gyeonggi-Incheon Migrants’ Trade Union (MTU). Their arrests follow the similar attack against MTU’s leadership in which the previous president, vice president and general secretary were arrested and deported at the end of last year.

I am concerned that these arrests coincide with the pending Supreme Court Case concerning MTU’s legal union status. Despite a Seoul High Court Ruling on 1 February 2007 in favor of MTU, the Supreme Court decision, expected before the end of this year, may deny South Korean migrant workers’ their right to freedom of association. The Labour Ministry's appeal of the High Court decision and the ongoing repression against the MTU and against migrant workers generally violate human and trade union rights established in international law and standards; migrant workers, like all workers, have the right to join trade unions and to negotiate collectively with employers.

I therefore call on your government to immediately and unconditionally release MTU President Torna Limbu and Vice President Abdus Sabur and to cease all harassment of MTU members, officers and supporters.