Korean Confederation of Trade Unions
5th Fl. Daeyoung Bld., 139 Youngdeungpo-2-ga,
Youngdeungpo-ku, Seoul 150-032 Korea
Tel.: +82-2-636-0165 Fax: +82-2-635-1134
E-mail: email@example.com http://kctu.org
May 18, 1999
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What is the Government's Response?
Arrest, Arrest, and More Arrests!
On May 15, 1999, KCTU president Lee Kap-yong held a press conference to
declare a temporary suspension of the KCTU-wide campaign to call on the
government to begin dialogue and negotiations over the demands the KCTU
has put forward. The decision to 'cool-off' the campaign was made on
the basis of the successful rolling strikes by the hospital workers and
metal workers and to see the various informal 'feelers' for negotiation
the government has been putting forward.
The president Lee Kap-yong's statement was picked up and 'welcomed' by
the media as an opportunity for a new development in the relationship
between the government and the KCTU.
The glimmer of a new development, however, was dashed abruptly by
sudden escalation of government crackdown on the KCTU. The government
attack began with arrest of the leader of the hospital workers union,
issuance of arrest orders against the entire leadership of a local
hospital union, and sweeping arrest orders against all the elected
leaders of the largest industrial federation.
The workers of the National Cancer Center Hospital chapter of the
Korean Health and Medical Workers Union began its strike on May 12
together with workers in other hospitals as a part of the KCTU-wide
general campaign calling democratic restructuring, working hour
reduction, comprehensive social security system, and industry-level
The government responded on May 17 by issuing warrant of arrest against
9 officers of the union branch at the hospital, including the chapter
president. On May 15, the police arrested Lee Sang-choon, the president
of the Korean Health and Medical Workers Union - a national union of
workers in the health and medical industry with members in 146
hospitals - and at the same time the president of the Korean Federation
of Hospital Workers Unions, without a warrant. He was later, on May 17,
formally charged and held in detention. On the same day, police issued
warrant of arrest against Nah Soon-ja, the president of Seoul Regional
Branch of the union. The allegation and the charge laid against the 9
officers of the National Cancer Center Hospital and Ms Nah and the
union president Mr Lee are 'obstruction of business'.
The government action against the hospital workers union and at the
National Cancer Center Hospital deviates abruptly from the pattern set
in other hospitals.
The rolling strike organised by the Hospital Workers Union ended in all
the major public and private hospitals, such as, the Veteran Hospital,
the Seoul National University Hospital, Ewha Women's University
Hospital, and Kyunghee University Hospital, with the successful
conclusion of collective agreement which prevented the unilateral
The sudden police intervention at the National Cancer Center Hospital
has destroyed all the hopes of a negotiated settlement like in other
hospitals causing it to develop into a major war of attrition. At the
same time, the abrupt development raises fear that the union leaders at
the hospitals where strikes have ended with successful conclusion of
the negotiations may become target of the government 'retaliation'. The
fear stems from the fact that the strikes at the hospitals are all - by
the current labour law in Korea - illegal and strictly banned.
The current Trade Union and Labor Relations Adjustment Act categories
hospitals as an essential public service where industrial disputes are
subject to 'compulsory arbitration'. Therefore, any industrial action
by workers in hospitals are illegal. The charge of illegal strike can
be brought down on the union leaders at the hospitals where strikes
have ended with successful conclusion of negotiation.
The recent arrest and police action brings the dormant battle over the
current trade union law which severely restrict the right of unions and
workers in hospitals and other public service workplaces to the surface.
The leaders of the union chapter at the National Cancer Center Hospital
served with warrant of arrest are Lee Kang-choon (chapter presdient),
Lee Kyung-hee (chapter vice-president), Keum Young-seub (chapter
secretary), Cho Eun-ja (chapter administrative director), Hwang Byung-
chul (chapter organising director), Im Myong-jik (chapter culture and
recreation director), Je Young-hee (chapter education director), Hong
Ki-yeul (chapter publication director), and Heo Mi-kyung.
The sudden escalation of attack on the KCTU unions by the government
reached a new height and absurdity when the Public Prosecutors Office
issued warrant of arrest against all of the elected leaders of the
KCTU's largest affiliate, the Korean Metal Workers Federation.
On May 17, it became known that president Moon Seung-hyun, first vice-
president Lee Hong-woo, general secretary Jeun Jae-hwan, and vice-
presidents Baek Soon-hwan, Lee Seok-haeng, and Oh Jong Soae are wanted
for arrest. The remaining vice-president Kim Hee-joon was already
wanted for arrest even before his election for his involvement in the
last year's strike by the Mando Machinery Workers Union.
The allegation for which the arrest warrants have issued is violation
of the Law on Assembly and Demonstration. The government action against
the KMWF leaders follows the formal arrest and detention of Han Seok-ho,
the Director of Organising Department.
The recent spate of government crackdown is, on the surface, in
response to the mass rally organised by the KCTU on May 14 and 15 where
15,000 workers demonstrated in the major streets of Seoul.
The peaceful workers rally turned into tense scuffle between unionists
and the riot police when riot police charged at the workers trying to
force the thousands of workers to just one lane of the road. In protest,
rallying workers sat down and laid down on the street, calling for
guarantee of the right of assembly and demonstration. As a result of
the clash, some 48 unionists were dragged away by police, giving rise
to even more tension.
The Growing List Incarcerated Unionists
Trade Union Rights in Ruins Under the Human Rights President Kim Dae
If the metalworkers leaders wanted for arrest were all arrested, then
the KMWF will be left with no elected leader as many of its member
local unions are waging difficult campaign to prevent mass layoff.
The new arrest orders have repopulated the KCTU safe camp at the
Myongdong Cathedral with the leaders of the Seoul Subway Workers Union
and the Korean Federation of Transport, Public and Social Services
Workers Unions with the main stayers since mid-April. KCTU is forced to
hold all its major meetings at the exposed Cathedral ground in order to
fill the quorum.
The list of the KCTU leaders and members made 'immobile' by the
government crackdown is becoming longer as the days go by:
* 66 leaders of the Seoul Subway Workers Union are subject to arrest
* 14 unionists at the Seoul Subway are already arrested and held in
* 5 unionists at the Hyundai Precision Industry are wanted for arrest
* 9 leaders of the National Cancer Center chapter and Nah Soon-ja of
Seoul branch are facing arrest
* Han Seok-ho Organising Director of the KMWF is arrested
* President Lee Sang-choon of the Korean Federation of Hospital Workers
Unions (also vice-president of the KCTU) is arrested
* 6 KMWF elected leaders are wanted for arrest
* President Nah Yang-joo of the Daewoo Shipbuilding Workers Union is
The new additions join those who are already imprisoned since last year,
including Dan Byung-ho, the former president of the KMWF and Kim Kwang-
shik, the former president of the Hyundai Motors Workers Union. The top
leaders of the KCTU itself may - if the current government campaign is
to extend further - may soon end up in jail, finally removing all the
obstacle in the way of the government's and the chaebols' Reaganite or
Thatcherite plan for "restructuring" and "retrenchment" of labour.
The arrests and attacks on hospital workers union and the metal workers
union undermine the KCTU initiative to create a new climate dialogue
and negotiation. On May 17, KCTU released a statement calling on the
government to end its war against workers and the KCTU, release all the
arrested, and begin negotiations. President Lee Kap-yong declared that
the KCTU will be forced to launch the third round of its general
campaign if the government insists on the recalcitrant attitude.
KCTU will, at the same time, prepare a petition to the ILO's Committee
on Freedom of Association in response to the repressive restriction of
trade union rights inherent in 'compulsory arbitration' for disputes at
public service workplace and the labour law system which makes
industrial action by unions addressing the issues of government policy
illegal. KCTU will challenge the Korean government in the international
community for its continuing failure to live up to its promise to
comply with international labour standards.
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