ITF backs sentenced Korean trade union leaders

The ITF has pledged to continue its support for Korean trade unions on the day three imprisoned trade union leaders faced court hearings. 

On 13 December, Park Won-ho, president of KPTU-TruckSol, the Cargo Truckers Solidarity Division of the ITF-affiliated Korean Public Service and Transport Workers’ Union, faced a prosecution call for a two-year sentence, but will not be sentenced until 19 January 2017. Han Sang-gyun, president of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), received a three-year sentence with a 500,000 won fine at the end of his appeal trial, while KCTU organising secretary Bae Tae-sun received an 18-month sentence with a 100,000 won fine. 

These outcomes come as a shock, given the Park Geun-hye government, which presided over the crackdown on trade unions that led to the trials, has now been completely discredited in relation to vast abuses of power. In response to massive street protests over the last two months, Korea’s national assembly voted to impeach president Park on 9 December.  

The ITF has written an amicus curae brief to support the appeal against his sentence by Cho Sung-deok, a KPTU vice president. Mr Cho was sentenced in July 2016 to two years in prison on charges relating to his participation in two demonstrations in August and November 2015 against the Korean government’s proposed labour market reforms.  

Through the amicus brief, which was submitted on 12 December, the ITF demonstrates from an international law perspective that the criminal charges against Mr Cho should be dropped or that his sentence should be reduced and suspended. The legal document defends the right of peaceful protest in international law, argues that there was abuse of criminal conspiracy laws and claims that the sanctions imposed on Mr Cho ‘are excessive and based on unfounded or exaggerated claims’.   

KPTU director of international affairs Wol-san Liem told the ITF: “Thank you very much for your support on this as we fight all these attacks on Korea’s trade unions.   

“Following the vote for the impeachment of president Park, the KPTU-Korean Rail Workers’ Union (KRWU) has stopped their strike after over 70 days, recognising the need for a change in tactics, given that there is no government to bargain with.”   

Rob Johnston, ITF assistant general secretary, commented on the unjustness of Tuesday’s sentences. He said that ITF unions would want to express their solidarity and pledged the ITF’s continued support. He reiterated that support for the struggle of Korean unions for trade union and democratic rights was made a top priority at the recent ITF road and rail transport workers’ section conference in Brussels on 8-9 December.  

Read more about recent ITF support for Korean trade unions:  

Global union leaders join Korea workers’ demonstrations 

Global unions in solidarity with Korean workers’ fight for democracy   

Global unions join Korean unions in ILO complaint   

ITF unions unleash solidarity wave for Korean colleagues 

ITF unions unite behind Korean workers 

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