Published: 18/03/2002

International union representatives join demonstration outside court

An international trade union delegation is currently in Korea to show the global labour movement’s unwavering support for the long-standing struggle of Korean trade unionists for adequate rights in today’s globalized economy. The delegation is made up of representatives of the Global Union Federations (formerly called International Trade Secretariats, or ITS), including IUF general secretary Ron Oswald and IUF Asia/Pacific regional secretary Ma Wei Pin, union leaders from key national trade union centres affiliated to the ICFTU and members of the ICFTU secretariat

The group witnessed the sentencing of Dan Byong-ho in a hushed court on the afternoon of March 18. On March 19 the group will visit a number of other jailed trade union activists as well as Dan Byong-ho himself.

Immediately following the imposition of the two year jail sentence, IUF general secretary Ron Oswald said “It is entirely unacceptable that in a world that should and must be governed by the universal acceptance and application of basic standards of worker rights as essential pillars of democracies and free societies, a courageous and dedicated trade union leader like Dan Byong-ho can face time in prison just for doing the job he was elected to do. Korea is on notice and the world is watching. Keeping these brave workers leaders incarcerated serves no purpose but to risk isolating Korea from the rest of the world and driving its economy into the ground.”

The IUF will be posting news from the jailed unionists and information about ways affiliates and others can effectively protest the imprisonment of Korean trade unionists by the courts.

Update: Day 2, March 19, 2002

The International delegation spent the morning of its first day holding a press conference, which attracted considerable national press interest. At the conference the delegation expressed its outrage at the sentence passed on KCTU President Dan to two years imprisonment and the pending sentencing of a number of other union activists.

International delegation press conference.

This was followed by a visit to the city cathedral that has become sanctuary to the leaders of the electricity workers union who face arrest and persecution from the authorities.

Small delegation visits KCTU President Dan in jail

A small delegation consisting of representatives from FNV (Netherlands), Rengo (Japan), the IUF and the ICFTU held a 30 minute visit with the jailed KCTU president. Sporting his prison uniform Dan, prisoner #77, expressed great appreciation for the international support the KCTU had received and was in turn thanks by the delegation for his efforts and sacrifices in the name of trade union freedoms in Korea.

The delegation assured him that the international labour movement would not rest until he is freed well in advance of the two-year jail term he received.

The Korean Labour Minister met with the delegation for two hours in the afternoon of March 19. Pleading the need to be able to compete with the likes of China and Vietnam (both countries where no trade unions exist), he outlined the reasons for the slow pace of Korean labour law reform, stressed the need for workers to accept flexibility and lay-offs and justified the need to punish those who would not, calling them criminals and men of violence.

The delegation strongly objected to the Minister’s attempted justification of the current renewed repression and his defence of the continued denial of basic rights as a result of poor labour laws that fail miserably to meet international standards.

IUF general secretary, Ron Oswald, stressing that he felt disappointed and disturbed by the Minister remarks and angry at the sight of KCTU president Dan in jail, went on to tell the Minister, human rights which include worker rights cannot be turned off and on like tap depending on the whims of either domestic or international investors. They are inviolable and non-negotiable and this delegation expects you of all people as a formerly persecuted and jailed trade union leader, to recognize that.