17 September 2014 – The ITF and its affiliate the Korean Railway Workers’ Union (KRWU) jointly submitted an ILO complaint on 16 September against the Republic of Korea for allowing its state-owned railway company, the Korea Railroad Corporation (Korail), to violate the ILO’s principles of freedom of association.
And, in a new tactic for the ITF, they have also submitted an amicus curiae (‘friend of the court’) brief to a national court dealing with the matter.
The documents relate to the bitter campaign for the right to freedom of association during the KRWU’s fight against rail privatisation. The Korean Federation of Public Services and Transportation Workers’ Unions (KPTU) and the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), to which the KRWU is affiliated, are also signatories.
The ITF and Korean unions argue that the conduct of Korail and government agencies during and after a KRWU strike in December 2013 exposes failures in South Korean law and policy, for which the government, as a member of the ILO, is responsible. These include the use of replacement workers during a lawful strike and raids on union offices.
The union had followed all necessary procedures for a strike but Korail and the government labelled it illegal. ‘Obstruction of business’ charges were placed against 198 KRWU officers and leaders, and criminal trials are currently underway against 176. The strike ended on 31 December after an agreement was reached with opposition and ruling party national assembly members to form a ‘Subcommittee on the Development of the Rail Industry’. However, it appears that in January 2014 Korail successfully applied to a court for a temporary seizure of the KRWU’s assets up to KRW 11.6 billion (approximately USD 11 million).
KPTU first vice president Jong-in Kim said: “Despite the ILO’s urgent intervention ahead of the strike, the government and Korail have persisted with severe repression against the KRWU. With the ITF’s continued solidarity and legal assistance we will continue to fight until we stop the rail privatisation plan, which threatens public access and passenger safety.”
ITF inland transport secretary Mac Urata added that the situation in Korea fitted entirely with the ITF’s new focus on the right to strike, overwhelmingly agreed at its congress in August, which backs ITF action to defend that right through solidarity and joint action.