16 December 2013 – A high-level International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) delegation is in South Korea to support the national rail strike organised by its affiliate, the Korean Railway Workers Union (KRWU). The delegation believes that the current rail strike is legal and that railway workers have the right to strike against the government’s rail privatisation and restructuring policy. Arresting union leaders in retaliation for strike action would be a grave violation of international labour standards and will not be condoned.
The delegation also believes that the government and Korail management are escalating this labour conflict by resorting to the use of strike-breakers (replacement workers). These are not fully qualified drivers and conductors, and in extreme instances South Korean media is reporting accidents caused by the use of these workers, including the death of a passenger. The ITF concludes that the current anti-union tactics as deployed by the government and Korail may be jeopardising the safety of the national railway system in South Korea.
The delegation also notes the strength in this union. Chair of the ITF railway section Oystein Aslasken said: “This union is organised and disciplined in this struggle. Their unity is strong. They have allies in the labour movement as well as in the wider civil society and political parties, as demonstrated by the successful rally on 14 December in Seoul.
“The ITF is calling on the Korean government and Korail to resolve this dispute by resuming negotiations with the KRWU. Failure to do so will result in the ITF stepping-up its campaign, for example, by lawfully targeting Korean exports of rail products such as Rotem rolling stocks by calling on the rail companies to review their contracts with Korean companies.
“The ITF will co-operate with the wider international trade union movement to campaign for the guarantee of workers’ rights in South Korea. Together with the ITUC (International Trade Union Confederation) and members of global union federations, the ITF will use international forums such as the ILO (International Labour Organization) and OECD (Organisation for Co-operation and Development) to demand the government of South Korea complies with international labour standards and guidelines. One part of this effort will be for the ITF to associate with the KRWU in filing an ILO complaint to the Freedom of Association Committee on the illegal actions taken by the South Korean authorities and Korail against the KRWU’s national strike that started on 9 December.”
Aslasken continued: “The government of South Korea and its anti-union behaviours are in the spotlight of international communities who now begin to question the legitimacy of South Korea’s membership in the OECD. The on-going attacks against the legal rail strike are just the latest example of their continual disregard and disrespect for the basic workers’ rights as enshrined in the core conventions of the ILO.
“The ITF and its affiliates will work collectively with their allies in the international trade union movement and beyond to bring justice to the working men and women in South Korea.”