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Date: 05/29 4:11 AM
From: KCTU Int'l. Solidarity,
Korean Confederation of Trade Unions
5th Fl. Daeyoung Bld., 139 Youngdeungpo-2-ga, Youngdeungpo-ku, Seoul 150-032 Korea
Tel.: +82-2-2636-0165 Fax: +82-2-2635-1134
May 29, 2000

KCTU Poised to Strike for

Five Day Working Week
End to the Plan to Sell Off the Daewoo Motors
Legal Protection for Workers in Atypical Jobs


On May 29, 2000, two days before the scheduled general strike, the KCTU President Dan Byung-ho, accompanied by the leaders of the KCTU affiliate federations, announced the plan to launch a general strike on May 31 as planned.

President Dan declared, "the only thing that will move the KCTU to rethink the planned general strike is for the President Kim Dae Jung to declare the intent of the government to amend the current labour to reduce the current statutory working hours to 40 hours a week, thus introducing a five day working week".


The Strike Plan

KCTU expects more than 100,000 of the KCTU members to go on strike on May 31. It will involve some 150 to 200 local (enterprise level) unions.

KCTU unions have taken the prerequisite steps to undertake fully legal strike in compliance with the requirements of the current labour laws.

The KCTU called on its member unions to file for mandatory mediation by May 20. Currently 219 unions involving a total of 174,000 members have filed for mediation. Following the mandatory "cooling off" period, the unions have undertaken strike ballot -- the next step in legal compliance. As of May 29, a total of 185 unions with a total membership of 138,000 members have undertaken strike ballot and approved the plan to strike.

The KCTU general strike is expected to be led by the members of the Korean Metal Workers Federation. 50 unions with a total membership of 60,000 have voted to strike. Some thirty branches of the National Health and Medical Industry Workers Union, involving some 15,000 members in hospitals, have voted to strike. Individual enterprise unions which will strike as a part of the KCTU general strike are those at some of the major enterprises in the private and public sectors. The Hyundai Motors Workers Union, Ssangyong Motors Workers Union, Korea Heavy Industry Workers Union, Seoul National University Hospital Branch and Ehwa Women's University Hosptial Branch of the National Health and Medical Industry Workers Unions, Kumho Tyre Workers Unions, LG Chemical Workers Unions, Livestock Farmers Cooperative Staff Union, National Social Insurance Workers Union, among others will strike unless the government will heed the call by the KCTU.

The Korean Air Pilots Union -- which has been fighting for months for union recognition -- will strike from 6 a.m. May 31 as a part of the KCTU general strike if the Ministry fails to issue a certificate of union registration in recognition of the union by 6 p.m. May 30. The union completed its strike ballot on May 28: Out of the 1,247 members, 1,165 took part in to vote and returned an astounding support for strike, by 1,128 (98.1%) while only 22 voted against the strike.

If there is no response from the government the KCTU's general strike will begin without any further deliberation.


The Strike Activities

All the KCTU leaders -- at the national centre, led by President Dan Byung-ho, at the KCTU affiliated federations, KCTU regional councils, and local enterprise unions -- will begin an emergency overnight sit in from May 29 to oversee the final preparation for the general strike.

On May 30, the KCTU will hold an emergency leaders council -- involving the elected leaders of all affiliated federations -- to fine tune the plan for the general strike. At the same time, the members of the Livestock Farmers Cooperative Staff Union from throughout the country will converge on Seoul to take part in the general strike.

On the first day of the general strike on May 31, KCTU will hold´a public rally in Seoul and 14 other major cities across the country. In the Seoul rally, more than 30,000 workers are expected to take part to call on the government to accept the 3 point KCTU demand. The rally will be follwoed by a march in the streets of Seoul, to end at the Myongdong Cathedral.

On June 1, the second day of the general strike, the KCTU affiliated federations will hold separate protest action in designated points in the major cities. In Seoul, the Korean Federation of Transporation, Public & Social Services Workers Unions will hold its protest rally in front of the government's Ministry of Planning and Budge.

Similar federation activities will be held on June 2, the third day of the general strike. On the fourth day, KCTU irregular workers rally will be held in downtown Seoul. This will lead into a night of action in preparation for the National Workers Rally to Win the General Strike, the next day.

On Sunday, June 4, the fifth day of the general strike, KCTU will organise a national workers rally where more than 50,000 striking workers are expected to participate.

KCTU will make arrangements for further action. One of the strike programme is the second national people's rally 2000 on June 10 where people's organisations, such as, the KCTU, the National Federation of Farmers Associations, and 30 others will join together to put the general people's demands to the government.


The Government Response

The reiteration of the plan is in effect a reply to the press conference held by the Minister of Labour on May 26.

In the press conference, the Minister of Labour stated that "the government will table an amendment to reduce working hours if the Tripartite Commission presents a consensus recommendation". The statement by the Minister of Labour is, in fact, nothing more than a repeat run of the previous government commitments. In February 1998, the Tripartite Commission, in which the government and the representatives of the president-elect took part, agreed to "establish a Committee on Working Hours within the first half year of 1998 and prepare measures for employment stabilisation through reduction of working hours."

In an agreement between the KCTU and the government on June 5, 1998, which led to the suspension of the KCTU plans for general strike at the time, the government committed itself to "Undertake a discussion to begin to reduce working hours for specific industries and size of companies to 40 hours a week and shall undertake an active effort to provide financial assistance through "Working Hour Adjustment Fund" allocated in the Employment Insurance and to seek to secure other financial resources. A Working Hour Reduction Committee will be set up in the Tripartite Commission to prepare for reduction of the statutory basic working hours and the real working hours and also undertake a discussion for the adjustment of wages and improvement of working hours system."

Therefore, the latest government pronouncement is nothing more than a regurgitation of the empty promises it had made on at least two occasions when the government was anxious to win the agreement from the trade union movement.

The primary object of the plan by the KCTU to launch a general strike is for the government to declare its own plan to prepare and initiate a change in the law to bring the statutory basic working hours to 40 hours a week.

KCTU regards this commitment by the government to be one similar to the commitment by the French government which then allowed the interested parties to negotiate on the terms of the change. The government, while appearing to state its commitment, however, in reality, is attempting to hide behind a pre-condition -- "if the Tripartite Commission brings forward a ecommendation".

Two "problems" lie ahead of the government's position. First, the KCTU has declared repeatedly that it has no confidence in the Tripartite Commission and that it rejects it as the capable body. Another, without a firm government commitment to pursue on its own schedule and steam the reduction of working hours, the employers will continue to reject any proposal by the KCTU to negotiate the reduction.


The Issues in the KCTU General Strike

KCTU has put another agenda to the government to respond. The government has failed to respond the other demands.

* Restoration of the Damage Caused by the Economic Crisis and the Employer Abuse

The economic crisis has given employers extraordinary powers to abuse the good will of workers. While workers and ordinary people responded to the crisis by accepting wage cuts and foregoing wage payment -- which are indicated by the decline in the real and nominal wages over the period of the crisis, the employers have used the crisis as an opportunity to downgrade and destroy the integrity of collective bargaining agreement. As a result, such crucial collective agreement provision for consultation or prior agreement on employment adjustment was ignored with abandon. The employers have exploited the uncertainty of the crisis to destroy unions and to beat back the decade of achievement of the trade union movement.

In response, the KCTU has demanded a restoration of the legal efficacy of the collective bargaining process and agreement. Furthermore, the KCTU had called for the restoration of the damage to the rights and welfare of workers wreaked in the period of the economic crisis.

Sell-out of the Daewoo Motors: Included in this demand is the call to stop the government plan to sell of the Daewoo Motors to an overseas operator. The decision was part of the crisis management plan to sell off every possible asset to obtain foreign currency to restock the depleted foreign currency reserve.

The KCTU has rejected the validity of this kind of crisis management plan as it augurs a long term damage to the Korean economy. Nevertheless, the government has pursued blindly its plan to private public enterprises and to sell off as much as possible everything that foreign buyers wish to buy. The plan was not based on any in-depth or extensive examination of the long term industrial and employment consequences. The typical of this decision was the decision to sell off the Daewoo Motors to an overseas operator.

Unilateral amalgamation of livestock cooperatives: Another spur of the moment decision at the height of the crisis was to amalgamate the agricultural cooperatives and livestock farmers cooperative. The decision is made in total disregard for the different roles being played by the two cooperative system.

Although it is a decision that need the support of the "owners" of the cooperatives, the government bureaucrats made the decision only on the basis of superficial calculation looking at the bank service aspect of the two cooperatives. It was made as a part of the general financial market restructuring rather than with the development of agriculture and livestock industry in view.

The KCTU calls for an end to the government measures to forcibly amalgamate the two cooperatives.

* The Legal Protection for Atypical Workers, Consolidation of Social Security and Taxation

The economic crisis has brought to the fore a crucial negative development in the labour market. The crisis was seen as an opportunity for employers to replace regular employees with non-regular employees, with a pure intent on exploiting cheap labour. During the crisis, regular employees who were laid off -- in response to the unilateral one-size fits on directive of the government to reduce the workforce by 30% in the public enterprises -- were rehired the next day to continue their work as if nothing had changed. But what was changed was their contract status and with it their wage levels, security, and benefits. Large number of enterprises have turned to the use of "atypical" employment to exploit cheap labour.

The crisis has also revealed the total inadequacy of social security system in Korea. Social security system is not only a structure of social safety net which can assist the society to absorb the shock of a crisis, but also, more importantly a system, institution, and value-expression of social solidarity. A well- functioning social security-welfare system requires a carefully designed and implemented taxation system.

In response, the KCTU has called for a consolidated institutional protection for those workers in atypical jobs, so that the need of "flexibility" on the part of employers is not turned into a weapon of exploitation of workers. Furthermore, the KCTU has called for a general overhaul and redesigning of the taxation system to finance a robust social security system which will administer a genuine welfare redistribution, instilling a spirit and institution of social solidarity.

The government has failed to respond to any of these basic demands of the KCTU. Instead, it has turned to attack the KCTU for going on a general strike. This is not a responsible stance a government can take towards the valid, legitimate, and justified demands of the trade union movement.

The KCTU has proposed to the government -- the Ministry of Labour, the Office of Prime Minister and the Office of the President -- on a number of times to hold discussions and negotiations over these demands. Despite the repeated expression of the KCTU to cooperate with the government in its preparation for the inter-Korea summit if the government makes a categorical declaration to take action to change the law to establish a five day working week, the government has refused to make any new measures and gestures. [KCTU has committed itself to pull out the Korean Air Pilots Union from the general strike if the government issues the certificate of union registration in the spirit to minimise the impact on the comfort of the general public.

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