2015 ITUC Global Rights Index Rating: 5

KTU legal status and leader under attack from government authorities:

In October 2013, the government outlawed the Korean Teachers and Education Workers' Union (KTU) due to its repeated refusal to deny membership to fired teachers.

In a ruling in June 2014, the Seoul Administrative Court approved the decision, depriving the KTU of its 14-year-old status as a legal trade union.

The court said the KTU could only retrieve its status by nullifying the membership of dismissed educational workers, who, according to Article 2 of the Labour Relations Act, cannot join unions.

The teachers' group took to the streets to protest the court's decision. In response, the Ministry of Education (MOE) ordered KTU members to return to their schools or otherwise face stern consequences.

On 27 June 2014, about 1500 of members of the KTU left work early to demonstrate against the government's decision. It also presented a petition signed by 12,000 of its members, calling for President Park Geunhye to step down.

On 15 July 2014, police seized KTU's website servers as part of an investigation into alleged illegal political activity by its members.

The education ministry said it had filed charges against some 107 KTU members who were in charge of organising the protests and petition, claiming that the action 'damaged the political neutrality of education'.

The ILO has urged the Korean government to repeal the provision from its legislation through its various committees.

In September 2014, Judge Min Joon-gi of the Seoul High Court granted the KTU an injunction allowing it to retain its legal status until an appeal was decided. His Honour also accepted a request that the Constitutional Court review whether Article 2 of Labour Relations Act was in accordance with the country's Constitution, observing: "The article possibly goes against the principle of excessive prohibition ensured under the Constitution and infringes upon teachers' rights to organisation and equality."

Days earlier, a Seoul district court rejected request by the state prosecutor to order the arrest of KTU chief Kim Jeong-hoon, who was being investigated for allegedly violating the nation's public servants law. The law prohibits civil servants, including public school teachers, from taking part in political activities, such as holding rallies or voicing their political opinions in public.

Kim allegedly wrote posts denouncing President Park Geun-hye on the website of the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae in breach of the National Public Service Law, prosecutors said.

The KTU head is also accused of infringing on the law by making online posts demanding the truth about April's ferry disaster and criticising the government for its poor response, they said.

The prosecution further alleges that the union leader led an early leave of absence by some 1,500 KTU members on June 27 in protest of a government decision to turn the KTU into an outsider union for accepting dismissed teachers as its members.

"There is not enough reason to detain (Kim) at the present stage after reviewing the evidence and investigation process," Yoon Gang-yeol, a judge from the Seoul Central District Court, said of the reasons for the court's decision.

Samsung Group executives cleared of anti-union schemes despite written evidence:

In January 2015, Korean state prosecutors decided not to bring charges against Samsung Group executives, including Samsung Electronics Chairman Lee Kun-hee, who had been accused of blocking Samsung workers from establishing labour unions.

The Seoul Central Prosecutors' Office said Tuesday that it cleared Lee and the group's strategy office head Choi Gee-sung of allegations they had violated the country's labour law, citing a lack of evidence.

The accusations came to light in October 2013 when Rep. Sim Sang-jung of the minor opposition Justice Party disclosed a 150-page document detailing the group's anti-labour activities.

It read: "In case of attempts to establish labour unions, the group's labour-related departments and each affiliate's personnel affairs departments should cooperate to deter the moves as early as possible," adding, "If the early collapse fails, they should make the unions wither through a long-term strategy."

Samsung has long kept a stance not to support labour unions. Following the disclosure, some civic groups and the Lawyers for a Democratic Society filed a complaint with the prosecution against Lee and Choi, claiming the group carried out systematic tactics to block any moves to form labour unions.

Prosecutors, however, said they could not find evidence showing that Samsung affiliates committed unfair labour practices. Prosecutors did, however, find unfair practices at one affiliate, Samsung Everland, which changed its name to Cheil Industries last year. They subsequently asked a court to hand down between 5 million and 10 million won in fines to four executives there.

The ITUC Global Rights Index Ratings:

1 // Irregular violation of rights
Collective labour rights are generally guaranteed. Workers can freely associate and defend their rights collectively with the government and/or companies and can improve their working conditions through collective bargaining. Violations against workers are not absent but do not occur on a regular basis.

2 // Repeated violation of rights
Countries with a rating of 2 have slightly weaker collective labour rights than those with the rating 1. Certain rights have come under repeated attacks by governments and/or companies and have undermined the struggle for better working conditions.

3 // Regular violation of rights
Governments and/or companies are regularly interfering in collective labour rights or are failing to fully guarantee important aspects of these rights. There are deficiencies in laws and/or certain practices which make frequent violations possible.

4 // Systematic violation of rights
Workers in countries with the rating 4 have reported systematic violations. The government and/or companies are engaged in serious efforts to crush the collective voice of workers putting fundamental rights under threat.

5 // No guarantee of rights
Countries with the rating of 5 are the worst countries in the world to work in. While the legislation may spell out certain rights workers have effectively no access to these rights and are therefore exposed to autocratic regimes and unfair labour practices.

5+ // No guarantee of rights due to the breakdown of the rule of law
Workers in countries with the rating 5+ have equally limited rights as countries with the rating 5. However, in countries with the rating 5+ this is linked to dysfunctional institutions as a result of internal conflict and/or military occupation. In such cases, the country is assigned the rating of 5+ by default.

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