The ITF and ITUC have written jointly to the government of South Korea to express their fears that labour rights could be violated during a forthcoming strike against rail restructuring and privatisation.
Overwhelmingly supported by members of the ITF-affiliated Korean Railway Workers Union (KRWU) in a vote on 28 June, and likely to happen before the end of the year, the strike would take place amid signs of deteriorating labour relations in the country. However, the union’s opposition to privatisation is shared by a majority of political parties, civil society organisations and the general public – and President Park Geun-hye gave an election promise not to proceed with high-speed rail privatisation against public wishes.
The ITF/ITUC statement raises concern that the Korean government and rail company Korail have pursued their privatisation programme without consultation with the KRWU. At the same time, the government has failed to respond to recommendations issued by the International Labour Organization (ILO) in November 2012 – or to an urgent intervention by ILO director general Guy Rider last month - calling on it to address labour rights violations committed during a previous KRWU strike in 2009.
In retaliation for the strike at that time, government actions included dismissing, charging and imprisoning union leaders. A year after the ILO recommendations were made, 91 union members have yet to be reinstated and the government has given no indication that it intends to comply with any ILO guidance.
In their open letter, the ITF and ITUC urge the South Korean government to take into account that, while it has in the past denounced Korean railway strikes as illegal because they pertain to government policy, or attempted to render them ineffective through excessively high minimum service requirements (up to 80 per cent), these practices violate international standards. The ITF and ITUC also call on the government to refrain from using criminal charges of ‘obstruction of business’ against workers exercising their legitimate right to strike.
On 25 November, ITF representative Mac Urata met with senior government and Korail officials and stressed the serious lack of social dialogue in determining such an important national transport policy. He urged them, without success, to reconsider what the government official described as a "shock therapy" approach.