2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Korea, Republic of
|Publisher||International Trade Union Confederation|
|Publication Date||6 June 2012|
|Cite as||International Trade Union Confederation, 2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Korea, Republic of, 6 June 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4fd88942c.html [accessed 20 May 2013]|
ILO Core Conventions Ratified:
100 (Equal Remuneration for Work of Equal Value (1951))
111 (Discrimination in Employment and Occupation (1958))
138 (Minimum Age for Employment (1973))
182 (Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (1999))
Reported Violations – 2012
Documented violations – actual number of cases may be higher
Police violence and criminal sanctions against strikers continued along with increasing use of law suits claiming huge amounts of damages against strikers and unions. Since the 2008 election of the conservative government, the Korean trade union movement has noted increasing repression and worsening treatment of its members. Employers systematically engage workers on precarious employment contracts specifically to prevent them from forming and joining trade unions. Trade union rights are restricted in the public sector, and amendments to the labour laws in 2010 further restricted union activity.
The economic downtown has intensified conflicts in industrial relations as enterprises seek short-term policies of mass dismissals and unilateral cuts to wages and working conditions.
The FKTU and the KCTU jointly announced that they would seek five key revisions of the labour law, including expanding the definition of employee and employer (to address concerns related to precarious work), improving procedures for setting up trade unions (restricting the administrative authorities' discretionary intervention in union recognition by limiting the scope of the inspection), guaranteeing discretionary bargaining between labour and management under the trade union pluralism system, giving unions and employers the authority to decide on the payment of full-time union officials and restricting the right to terminate collective bargaining agreements.
In May, a new trade union confederation took steps towards establishment in 2011. The New Hope Labour Union will include unions from Seoul Metro, Hyundai Heavy Industries, Hyundai Mipo Dockyard and th Federation of Local Public Enterprises, accounting for about 150,000 workers.
Trade union rights in law
Numerous categories of public officials, as well as personnel dealing with trade unions or industrial relations, are denied union rights. Dismissed workers are also prohibited from keeping their union membership. Furthermore, public officials and teachers are prohibited from engaging in "acts in contravention of their duties" when conducting union activities – a provision that is open to abuse – and may not be involved in any sort of "political activities". The right to collective bargaining is also limited in the public sector as laws and budgets prevail over any collective agreement.
The right to strike is recognised, but strikes that are not directly related to labour conditions are easily considered illegal. Article 314 of the Criminal Code bars "obstruction of business". Public officials and teachers are denied this right, and the list of "essential services" exceeds the ILO definition.
With the amendment of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Adjustment Act on 1 January 2010, wage payments to full-time union officials by employers were banned. A time-off system was instead established to prescribe the maximum number of union officials and hours for union activities for each workplace depending on its size. The amendment also brought positive change by allowing union pluralism at the enterprise level from July 1, 2011; however, only a single bargaining channel is allowed. A move opposed by the trade union confederations.
Link to additional detailed information regarding the legislation on the ITUC website here
"Illegal" strikes and police violence:
Collective action often becomes "illegal", even when it is not in essential services, given the complicated legal procedures for organising a strike. The government continued to repress such action severely, including the imprisonment of hundreds of trade unionists. In the majority of cases, the principal charge was "obstruction of business". Unionists striking "illegally" often receive a one-year prison sentence or heavy fines. Imprisoned trade unionists are generally isolated from one another in order to prevent them from taking collective action while in jail.
The authorities use the violence that takes place during some demonstrations and strikes to justify the detention of trade union leaders; however, unions insist police action is unnecessarily provocative and disproportionately brutal. Prosecutors are quick to issue arrest warrants as soon as workers go on strike, or sometimes the moment a strike is announced. Police or security agencies mount surveillance operations, some of a sophisticated nature, in order to capture the strike leaders. This surveillance is sometimes carried out on members of the trade unionists' families. Unions' offices and telecommunications are routinely monitored.
In April, it was reported that prosecutors had been collecting DNA samples from workers convicted of engaging in strikes and other activities. The practice, which currently targets workers who took part in a Ssangyong Motor strike and the occupation of Daelim Motor, had reportedly been taking place at district prosecutor's offices across the country since March.
Casualisation and restricted trade union rights:
Korea already has very high levels (more than 50%) of labour casualisation, but according to unions, recent initiatives to privatise and merge public utilities are leading to increases in this figure, a rapid rise in laid-off public employees, increased job instability and inferior working conditions for those remaining in employment. Casual workers have restricted rights to organise.
In February 2010, estimates showed that more than five million workers, or one-third of the South Korean workforce, have already been made contract workers, receiving just 60% of the average wages of permanent workers. According to the Korean unions, the new "National Employment Strategy 2020", a government initiative to raise employment levels, includes provisions that will further deregulate private employment agencies, expand indirect employment, and increase precarious employment. 2011 figures show that the employment conditions of irregular workers are much worse than before with average pay now at almost half of those employed on regular contracts.
Interference with trade unions: In January, the Ministry of Employment and Labour rejected a National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) recommendation from October 2010 to reduce its interference in labour union establishment procedures and union membership criteria. It also reportedly ignored demands to allow temporarily unemployed workers and job-seekers into unions. In May 2010, a senior policy advisor of the Trade Union Advisory Committee (to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development TUAC-OECD) stated that the Korean government is interfering excessively with labour-management relations and that the policy of limiting wage payments to unionists did not conform to international standards. Trade unionists also criticised a new Trade Union Act that went into effect in July 2010 and which reduces the number of full time union officials. The number of full-time unionists in workplaces with less than 300 workers has reportedly decreased by 25%.
Multiple unions welcomed, but unions express concern about impact of single bargaining channel on minority unions:
On 1 July, a new law went into force which allows multiple labour unions at a single workplace. The law was first enacted in 1997, but had been postponed for a decade. Under the revised law, only two people are needed to form a trade union. Supporters see the law as a means of improving worker's rights to establish trade unions at enterprises that had established pro-management unions, or enterprises which had previously banned unions. Both Samsung and POSCO have maintained a "no labour union" policy so far by establishing a pro-management, or "ghost" labour unions, thereby blocking the creation of the real ones. The ministry expects 400 to 500 new unions to be founded over the next 12 months, adding to the total in 2009 of 4,689.
However, the requirement to establish a single bargaining channel faced strong opposition from FKTU and KCTU. Under the new system, workers can establish up to two or more trade unions at the enterprise level. It remains possible for multiple unions to bargain separately with the employer – only if the employer agrees, which is viewed as unlikely. In most cases, unions will have to determine a representative trade union to conduct bargaining with the employer. If multiple unions fail to establish a single bargaining channel on their own, the trade union composed of a majority of workers (including a union delegated authority by an alliance with smaller unions) would be the representative union. If there is no majority union, the multiple unions need to create a joint bargaining team in which they all participate. Unions are opposing the requirement to establish a single bargaining channel, arguing that it will restrict minority trade unions' bargaining rights.
Unilateral cancellation of collective agreements:
The current legislation allows for the unilateral cancellation of a collective bargaining agreement, a clause which is often used by employers. The unilateral termination of collective agreements, one of the most central elements in labour-management relations, increased by some four times at public institutions
In July, the number of improper labour activity reports received so far for 2011 was 459, more than the entire total of 451 received in 2010.
Repression of migrants union and crackdown on illegal migrants:
Migrant workers are subject to serious abuses of labour rights. While the laws offer them similar protection to local workers in terms of wages and basic conditions, in reality most are paid far less than their Korean counterparts, forced to work long hours and often have their wages withheld. They are tied to their employer and face restrictions in changing jobs, making them particularly vulnerable.
There are around 700,000 migrant workers in South Korea, mainly working in factories producing textiles and electronics, but also involved in prostitution. In September 2008, the government announced it would halve the estimated 220,000 illegal migrant workers by 2012 and increased the sometimes violent deportation raids in workplaces and homes. Nearly 80 percent of migrant workers said that they had experience of being verbally abused at their workplaces while over 25% reported physical abuse. In September, it was announced that the government was suspending the entry of migrant workers from Vietnam after significant numbers failed to return home after their work visas expired.
Crackdown on unions and increasing use of lawsuits:
According to reports, compensation being claimed by management over labour disputes is increasing despite an agreement eight years ago between labour and management restricting large indemnification suits after a series of workers suicides had resulted from large lawsuits. Several trade unionists were in jail in 2011 for strike related activity.
In an examination of five large workplaces facing labour-management disputes, the total amount of compensation claims amounted to around 75 billion won (USD69.4 million). This included 30.1 billion won claimed by KEC, 17.9 billion claimed by Kumho Tyres, around 20 billion claimed by Hyundai Motor and its in-house subcontractors, 2 billion claimed by JEI, and 5.377 billion by Hanjin Heavy Industries (including a 96 million won fine against a single union member Kim Jin-suk, who led a crane top protest for much of 2011). Around 910 union leaders and members have been targeted by the claims.
KEC requested 30.1 billion won in damages even after establishing a collective agreement not to collect compensation. The companies that have claimed damages argue that they have suffered major losses due to illegal activities by the unions and that they are following proper procedure in requesting damages and attachments. However, many union officials are reportedly losing personal property and suffering depression as a result. In 2003, Doosan Heavy Industries worker, Bae Dal-ho, committed suicide by self-immolation, protesting the injustice of compensation claims while in October 2003, two union heads took their own lives, Kim Ju-ik at Hanjin Heavy Industries and Lee Hae-nam at Sewon Tech.
Underlying the proliferation of compensation claims is the difficulty workers face in holding legal strikes. All substantive strike efforts are regarded as "illegal", and companies use this illegality as a pretext for taking legal action. In February, Hanjin Heavy Industries undertook restructuring efforts that resulted in 400 lost jobs, including 230 voluntary resignations and 170 dismissals – a strike in response was declared illegal. In-house subcontracting workers at Hyundai Motor carried out a strike asking for conversion to regular employee status in accordance with a Supreme Court ruling, but this too was ruled illegal.
The interpretation from the government and the courts is that restructuring, privatisation, layoffs etc. fall under the category of management rights and therefore strikes to prevent them are not permitted. According to Kwon Du-seop, a lawyer with the KCTU Law Centre, workplace damage claims are primarily being used to suppress the right to strike and to crack down on unions. Concerns also remain over courts favouring management during lawsuits.
On 24 June, the International Metalworkers Federation (IMF) Assistant General Secretary, Fernando Lopes, joined a delegation that visited the National Assembly to report about recent, extensive violence against trade unions in Korea.
Teachers fined for political affiliation:
A court in Seoul found 260 out of 272 teachers and public servants guilty of making donations to the opposition Democratic Labour Party. In January, a court fined 134 teachers and government employees the sum of 300,000 to 500,000 Won (USD269 to USD449) for paying membership dues and/or giving donations to the Democratic Labour Party (DLP). Prosecutors were asking for much more including jail terms. The court however ruled that the teachers were innocent of the charges of joining a political party – contrary to Korean law forbidding teachers from joining political parties.
A local court also ordered a conservative parents' group to pay compensation to members of a progressive teachers' union for posting a list of 15,000 teachers of the Korean Teachers and Education Workers' Union (KTU) on its website in July 2010, disclosing their names and which school they worked at. The court said the disclosure of the names and other information of the unionised teachers violated their privacy rights.
In February, a group of teachers asked the Constitutional Court to review the law that bans teachers from joining political activities. The three teachers, members of the Korean Teachers and Education Workers' Union, were suspended for three months as punishment for voicing their political views, after being convicted by a local court for leading an anti-government campaign over its education policies.
Dismissed guitar makers on strike: Workers at the Cort Factories making guitars were dismissed in 2007 after attempting to organise a trade union. Both the Korean National Labour Relations Commission and courts in Seoul have judged Cort's mass dismissal and the sudden closure of its Korean factories to be illegal. The company was fined but Cort has reportedly used intimidation and violence to secure forced resignations from the workers in order to deny them unemployment benefits and to retaliate against the union through hired thugs. By the end of the year, the workers' case was in the hand of Korea's Supreme Court.
Hyundai Motor's Ulsan plant – contract worker status and legal damages sought:
In January, the Seoul High Court ruled that an in-house subcontracted worker, Choe Byeong-seung, 35, dispatched to Hyundai Motor for more than two years must be regarded as a full-time worker directly employed by the company. In February, the hearing upheld the decision. The Korean Metal Workers' Union (KMWU) and its Hyundai Motor irregular workers' branch called on the company to convert all of its in-house contract workers into regular workers. However, the company said it will appeal the ruling and at the same time filed 15 suits requesting damages amounting to 16.2 billion won (USD14.4 million) from workers who occupied the Ulsan, Asan, and Jeonju plants in a demand for recognition of their regular worker status.
Hyundai employs roughly 34,500 workers and nearly one-quarter are contract workers. Choe, for instance, was hired by the car maker through a labour agency, but he sued Hyundai, not the agency, for restitution of his work rights. He was sacked, allegedly, for exercising his right to belong to a union and was wanted by the police for leading the strike and occupation of the Ulsan No. 1 factory in November 2010. The charges against him include obstruction of operations and violation of the Assembly and Demonstration Act.
The KMWU Hyundai Motor irregular workers' branch voted to hold a second strike despite an end to the occupation to demand that their positions be made full-time, in accordance with a ruling made by the Supreme Court last year. A further 17 other people are also wanted by the police for their role in that strike. Around 1,000 workers at the subcontractor were punished, including 104 firings and 659 suspensions. Similar cases concerning contract workers are currently being heard – in November, around 1,941 contract workers filed an 18-item collective lawsuit against Hyundai Motor requesting recognition of their regular worker status and payment of differential wages. By the end of the year, the case was still pending in its first trial.
12,000 railway workers on trial – 6.99 million won awarded against union:
In January 2011, a hearing on disciplinary measures against over 12,000 workers of Korail began in the Central Labour Relation Committee. In 2009, the workers went on strike over the unilateral termination of collective bargaining. According to the union, the strike complied with the legal procedures required to stage a strike. However, the government called the strike illegal and during the strike arrest warrants were issued for 15 trade union officials. The trade union's office was seized for investigation by police. Later 169 trade union officials were dismissed, and over 12,000 union members who participated in the industrial action faced disciplinary measures.
In March, the Supreme Court ordered the railway union to pay 6.99 billion won (Euro 4.75 million) in compensation for losses caused by an earlier protracted walkout in 2006. This figure is the largest ever compensation for losses from a strike. 400 strikers were arrested at the time.
Samsung suicides and new union:
In January, two Samsung Electronics workers threw themselves off a dormitory building in Asan, South Chungcheong Province, less than two weeks apart. Both workers had taken long term sick leave. Despite calls from the family members for more information about what may have caused the suicides, the Ministry of Employment and Labour (MOEL) notified them of a decision not to disclose Samsung Electronics' employment regulations, explaining that they were Samsung's "trade secrets." Groups that have battled Samsung Electronics over occupational leukaemia cases designated the third week of March as "memorial week for workers who have died from semiconductor and electronics industry accidents." In September, another worker committed suicide.
In July, a trade union made up of four Samsung Everland employees filed an establishment notice, becoming the Samsung Group's first union led by workplace employees – only made possible after the new rules on union establishment went into force in 2011. There were nine unions at Samsung Group affiliates but all were reportedly "pro-company" unions or inactive "ghost unions" and had previously effectively prevented the establishment of democratic unions at the company under the old single union system. Previously, the company had taken advantage of the provisions prohibiting multiple trade unions to block the formation of member-led "democratic unions." It is also claimed that the management use incentives, intimidation tactics, and even abduction against employees who attempted to establish unions.
Ssangyong suicides after strike action continues:
A study conducted by Green Hospital on 193 workers affected by restructuring at Ssangyong reported a post-traumatic stress disorder occurrence rate of 52.3%, while around 80% showed signs of severe depression. The findings come after a major 2009 strike when most workers involved in the strike saw a sharp reduction in their monthly salary. Union officials report that thousands of ex Ssangyong workers are under extreme stress stemming from the loss of their jobs.
Ssangyong laid off around 2,600 workers after an expected takeover by the Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp. in January 2009 failed after the company went bankrupt. Workers were asked to either take a one year unpaid leave or to resign. In May, the union at Ssangyong and management agreed on a tentative wage deal, providing a raise in wages. However, some 450 workers who took 12 months of unpaid leave are still waiting to be rehired as promised by the company in 2009. The laid-off workers are demanding the company to keep its promise, but the company says it is not yet ready despite a promise to rehire them once sales had recovered within a year.
Department store workers reinstated after strike: On 31 October 2010, around 11 workers at the Daejeon Lotte Department store had their contracts terminated after they formed a trade union. Most had been employed at the shop for over ten years. Management initially refused to negotiate with the workers. In response, they camped outside the store in protest despite the wintry conditions. On 29 December 2010, they held a demonstration and press conference. The substandard working conditions of the workers were highlighted in the press conference along with the fact that some workers were being made to clean the houses of rich customers. The department store finally agreed to enter negotiations in early February and an agreement was reached. Under the agreement, six of the 11 workers will be reinstated and the other five workers will get a job in another company. The jobs of the five workers are to be guaranteed by the minister of labour.
Hongkik University contract cleaners go on strike and are then sacked:
Over 30 janitors and cleaning personnel – representing 170 mainly female irregular workers in their 50s and 60s – held a sit-in protest in the main building of Seoul's Hongik University, demanding the school withdraw the collective termination of their employment contracts. The service company which hired them to clean in the university had its contract terminated shortly after the workers organised a trade union in December 2010. After the school terminated the contract, the service company terminated individual contracts with the workers.
On 20 February, after a 49 day strike, the university reached a tentative agreement with the workers. The two labour supplying companies that fired them agreed to rehire them and further negotiated with the school on their behalf, according to the union members. According to the agreement, the hourly wage will rise slightly to 4,450 won for cleaners and 3,560 won for security workers on the condition of working eight hours a day, five days a week. However in July the university reportedly filed a lawsuit for damages against the workers demanding 280 million won (USD263,000) in compensation. The school said in a statement that they inflicted "significant damage to the school" by spearheading the rally on the first floor of an administration building for 49 days. The amount was set after calculating the amount the school spent to cover their use of water and electricity and to hire substitute cleaners during the protest.
In March, unionised cleaners and guards at three other universities in Seoul – Korea University, Yonsei University and Ewha Woman's University simultaneously went on strike, calling for an increase to their hourly wages. The joint strike by the three unions, which are members of the Korea Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), came as a provincial labour committee failed to arbitrate between the unions and the schools in the final round of negotiations.
Vietnamese workers arrested:
Between March and April, ten Vietnamese migrant workers working for Taehung Construction, a subcontractor for Hyundai Construction, building a container wharf in Incheon city were arrested over strike-related activities. They were charged with "obstruction of business, interfering with the regular business operations of the company, inciting group violence, and assault with a deadly weapon" for two walk-outs.
The workers had reportedly been forced to work 12-hour shifts with a one hour break, seven days a week for a minimum hourly wage of 4,110 KRW (2.6 Euros) even though their employment contract stipulated a five-day work week. Initially the workers were granted three free meals a day but the management informed them that starting from July 2010, only lunch would be provided free and Taehung would deduct 240,000 KRW (150 Euros) from their monthly wages for breakfast and dinner. Workers asked for improved wages and food. However, the company responded by threatening to report them to the Ministry of Labour and have them deported. Workers then went on strike in July 2010 and again in January 2011. The workers were then charged with "obstruction of business, interfering with the regular business operations of the company, inciting group violence, and assault with a deadly weapon for two walk-outs. The prosecution claims that the illegal strike caused significant financial losses to Taehung. At the first trial which took place on 26 May, the prosecution sought prison sentences ranging from one to three years for the workers.
Workers locked out of tyre plant:
After a membership vote on 10 March 2011, members of the Kumho Tyre Workers' Union affiliated to the Korean Metal Workers' Union (KMWU) and the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) staged a one-day strike on 25 March at two of three Kumho plants in Korea – Gwungju and Gokseong.
Management immediately retaliated on 26 March with a lockout. When some 3,400 workers at the two plants tried to return to their jobs, Kumho managers insisted they sign individual agreements pledging not to strike. Disputed issues include the refusal of management to negotiate paid time-off inside the factories for KMWU branch leaders to handle grievances and perform other union business.
On 1 April, management lifted its lockout of workers and rescinded its demand that workers sign individual work agreements promising not to engage in further work stoppages. In return for lifting the lockout, the Kumho Tyre Workers' Union said it would end its industrial actions in front of the two plants. In lifting the lockout, the Kumho Tyre Workers' Union recognised the company's fragile financial and market situation.
Kumho, a subsidiary of the Kumho Asiana Group is Korea's second largest tyre manufacturer and the world's tenth biggest. It had shed many jobs over the past two years due to debts and shifting of work to start-up plants in China. A week earlier, Kumho was hit by a massive recall of tyres made in those Chinese plants because recycled content exceeded the allowable requirements. Workers at the company's third tyre plant in Gyeonggi province, where the KMWU also represents staff, were not affected by the dispute.
Strike and occupation in Yoosung factory:
On 24 May, 500 strikers staging a sit-in at the Yoosung Enterprise factory in Asan, which manufactures piston rings for Hyundai, Kia, Renault and General Motors in South Korea, were dispersed by around 3,000 riot police. The majority of strikers were arrested. According to the Korean Metal Workers' Union (KMWU), this is part of a general union busting strategy applied by the company.
In 2009, an agreement was signed with the KMWU on the elimination of the night shift. However, successive talks had not resulted in implementation of the agreement. In May, a vote was taken to begin industrial action and on 18 May, the union held a two hour strike with daytime shift workers. Later that day the company announced a lockout against the local members and some 30 assailants surrounded the factory and tried to prevent night shift workers from entering the site. With the help of their day shift colleagues the workers managed to enter the factory. The same night, unknown assailants drove a minivan from a company "specialised in industrial dispute and tenant eviction", into a gathering of workers injuring some 13 workers.
A union busting plan by management was also discovered which sought to induce a strike, impose a lock-out and blockade the factory provoking violence and subsequent repression by police at the factory. The workers remained in the factory until the police dispersed them on 24 May. In June, some 11,000 unionised workers of Yoosung Enterprise attempted to enter its main plant in Asan. They were rebuffed by police. During the clash, 108 riot police and about ten unionists were injured. The unionised employees have been trying to enter the plant en masse since June 15, insisting that all of them should be given their jobs back. However, Yoosung management has been preventing them from doing so, demanding unionists return to work on an individual basis in order to screen out union leaders. The plant has been operated by non-unionised workers since 24 May.
Trade Union of Security Guards at US Military Bases in Korea on strike has faced lawsuits:
US Force Korea (USFK) has outsourced security guard service for its bases in Korea. G4S Secure Solution Ltd. In September 2011, G4S won the latest bid to the contract with USFK. For decades, previous contractors including G4S itself always respected the succession rights of employment. However, in September G4S denied the employment succession and layed off 150 workers. In addition, G4S offered drastically deteriorated working conditions, including reducing the wage level by 30% and increasing working hours by 68 hours per month by changing the shift system (from 4 teams and 3 shifts to 3 teams and 2 shifts).
Hence the trade union of 864 security guards at US Bases in Korea (Joeun System Trade Union), an affiliate of the Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU), tried to negotiate with G4S for the employment succession and the previous terms and working condition at least. G4S rejected the offer and started a new recruitment process.
As of the 1st of December 2011, the union went on strike while making every effort to resolve the dispute through dialogue. G4S, however, proposed to re-employ 300 out of 864 workers. FKTU has also proposed dialogue with G4S, who rejected any further negotiations in terms of the employment succession rights.
G4S has been found to violate the Labour Standard Act in terms of working hours by the Ministry of Employment and Labour, who filed the case to the public prosecutor's office. The union demanded of USFK the termination of the current contract with G4S as the contract was not in compliance with Korean Labour Laws.
Hanjin workers on strike for almost a year:
On 9 November, after 11 months of conflict the Korean Metal Workers' Union (KMWU) and the management of Hanjin Heavy Industries agreed on an end to the dispute about mass dismissals at the Korean shipyard. The provisional deal called for the Hanjin ship maker to reinstate 94 laid-off workers within 12 months. Union leaders reported that they had to end the sit-in protest to evade 'fine bombs' which were reportedly expected to be as much as 1 million won per day per member who participated in the protest.
Kim Jin-suk, a member of the executive committee for the Busan office of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) who had staged a sit-in atop a Hanjin crane for 309 days to protest the layoffs, finally came down after the union's agreement. At the same time, the local Busan District Court dismissed the police's request for warrants for Kim Jin-suk and three other protesters – two former Hanjin Heavy employees and one regional labour activist who were also accused of leading union members in the strike as well as obstructing business and intrusion.
Workers had taken extensive strike action after the company announced plans to lay off around 400 workers. Although an initial agreement was reached in June, some 100 workers continued protesting including Kim Jin Suk who had earlier refused to call off her protest despite an injunction for her removal and daily fines being levied against her. Hanjin filed a lawsuit against Kim, the KCTU, and the Hanjin trade union requesting 110 million won in damages.
The strike had began in December 2010 because management reportedly violated the local collective bargaining agreement signed on 26 February 2010, which stated that "the company stops, as of today, its mass restructuring redundancy development which started from December 18, 2009." During the almost year-long strike, workers faced several lock outs and violent police confrontations as well as arrests and overnight occupations. Union members were only able to enter the company premises on negotiation days while some 600 workers were ordered to vacate the factory. In July, around 50 people were arrested and dozens injured after police used water cannons and tear gas to disperse protesters. On 28 August, police used the cannon to disperse 800 supporters while in October, 59 more workers were arrested.
In August, a parliamentary hearing on the Hanjin mass dismissals was organised and called for the chairman of Hanjin to appear before the hearing – the first time in Korean history. The hearing also urged the chair to reconsider the dismissals which he refused. Previously, in 2003, a worker Kim Ju-ik, head of the HHIC chapter of the Korean Metal Workers' Union (KMWU) had held a protest over similar issues on top of a crane at Hanjin for 129 days until he finally hung himself.
Migrant union chair threatened with deportation, administrative court rules against immigration services:
The Migrants' Trade Union (MTU) was founded in April 2005 and is a member of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU). However, the government has consistently refused to recognise it as a legal union and has not let it engage in trade union representation or collective bargaining, despite the fact that Korean law allows all workers to organise and that in 2006 the Seoul Higher Court recognised MTU as a legal union. The government has appealed this decision and has arrested and deported MTU leadership several times since 2005.
In November 2010, Michel Catuira, president of the Seoul-Gyeonggi-Incheon Migrants' Trade Union, was summoned to appear before the Immigration Office for unlawful political activities. In February 2011, the Seoul Immigration Office cancelled his employment visa status and ordered him to leave the country. The Ministry of Labour had pressured several times on the company that hired Mr Catuira, and finally the authorities cancelled the employment permit of the business owner on 1 December 2010. The Ministry of Justice then alleged that Michael Catuira had broken immigration law and summoned him for questioning on 22 December. On 15 September 2011, however, a Seoul court cancelled the government deportation order finding that he had not been falsely employed and that the acts taken against him by the government were due to his association with the MTU.
In November, the ILO issued recommendations that the government refrain from taking action against Mr Catuira until a final court decision had been made and also that it "refrain from any measures which might involve a risk of serious interference with trade union activities and might lead to the arrest and deportation of trade union leaders for reasons related to their election to trade union office".
Since the MTU was founded in 2005, the government has arrested six of its officers, supposedly for violations of Immigration Control Act. Of these six, five were deported. In addition, the South Korean government has refused to recognise MTU's status as a legal union, claiming that its founders, who were undocumented migrants, did not have the right to do so. Pressure recently increased on the MTU in the wake of its activities protesting the death of a Vietnamese migrant worker as the result of an immigration raid.