Korea: ITF Support Railway Workers' Right To Strike

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[Picture: MUA Vic Branch Secretary Kevin Bracken addressing supporters in Korea]

Today, the president of the ITF-affiliated Korean Railway Workers Union (KRWU), Myoung-Hwan Kim, released an international appeal calling upon the ITF and its 700 affiliates worldwide to continue supporting the KRWU’s struggle against rail privatisation.

In the video, President Kim thanked the unions around the world for taking part in solidarity and protest actions including the day of action on 10 December, but urged the ITF and its affiliates to continue mobilsing their members for this campaign against privatization and fragmentation of the Korean railway and repression of the Korean railway workers’ strike.

The ITF has already supported the KRWU’s strike, including through a delegation that was in country from December 11 to 17.

After this delegation departed, the government used massive police force to raid the KCTU headquarters on the December 22 in a failed attempt to arrest KRWU leaderships.

In response to this alarming situation, ITF Acting General Secretary Stephen Cotton made an urgent decision to dispatch a second delegation to Korea. The delegation, which arrived in Korea on December 27, consists of ITF Secretary of Inland Transport Mac Urata, and Kevin Bracken, Vice President and Victoria State Secretary of the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA). The MUA is a central ITF affiliate and its General Secretary, Paddy Crumlin, serves as the ITF president.

The ITF reasserts its position, made clear in a jointed statement released with the ITUC on December 22nd that the raid on the KCTU headquarters and excessive use of force used against resisting workers and supporters “not only contravene international recognised labour standards but also violate civil rights.”  

During the time the second ITF delegation has been in Korea, it became clear that top leaders of the KRWU are now being sheltered at the KCTU, the Jogye Temple and the headquarters of the Democratic Party. The ITF believes this is a reflection of the wide support for the rail strike from various civil society groups, religious circles and political parties. The delegation has also noted that these forces have worked actively to facilitate the resumption of dialogue between the union, government and Korial.

The ITF delegation was shocked that despite the proposals for compromise put forth by the Jogye order and opposition parties, the government rushed through the issue of a license to the new Suseo KTX operating company line in a single day on December 27. Under normal circumstances, the process requires at least several days. On the same day, the Korail issued a "final return to work order" to the striking rail workers threatening them with heavy disciplinary actions if they did not return to work by 12:00 midnight on 27 December. The Korail has already begun the process of deciding disciplinary actions, such as suspension and dismissal, against 490 the core members.

We are shocked by what appears to us not only disregard for, but a complete rejection of rational attempts to foster social dialogue and find a solution. We stress that this sort of unilateral pursuit of rail policy is unheard of in countries such as Germany and the UK. We also stress that the repression of the rail strike violates ILO core conventions and past ILO recommendations. We call on the government and Korail to halt the establishment of the Suseo KTX operating company and disciplinary actions and begin negotiations with the KRWU.

The ITF delegation is greatly impressed that despite intimidation the vast majority of KRWU members are still on strike. In addition, the KCTU successfully held a general strike rally participated in by 100,000 workers and citizens and fully endorsed by FKTU.

The ITF delegates, who took part in the rally, were encouraged by the strong public support towards the KRWU and their fight back against government oppression on the KCTU.

Further general strike rallies are announced as 9 and 16 January 2014. To respond to the KRWU’s call for increased solidarity, the ITF and its affiliates will organize protests at Korean embassies around the world in timing with the KCTU’s action plans. The ITF will also liaise with the ITUC and members of global union federations to take the case to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and its Freedom of Association Committee, and the OECD.

Click here to view more pictures of the ITF delegation in Korea.

Send a message: Support Railway Workers' Right to Strike