In 2016, the former president of Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), was given a five-year sentence in jail for “obstruction of public duty”, “destruction of public goods”, “hosting an assembly at a banned location” and other 5 charges related to a mass rally organized by KCTU on 14 November, 2015 in protesting the Korean Government’s unilateral revision of the Labour Law. His sentence was later reduced to three years in 2017.
At the meantime, the authorities issued an arrest warrant on former General Secretary of KCTU, Lee Young-joo, on identical charges. During which, Sister Lee stayed in the headquarters of KCTU in a self-imposed house arrest to serve her term as General Secretary until December 2017. Upon the completion of her term, Sister Lee immediately staged a hunger strike at the headquarters of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea to protest against the relaxation in working hours regulations, where she was subsequently arrested and is now waiting for trial.
We (signatories), as members of civil society in Hong Kong, would like to stress that as a legitimate independent trade union in South Korea, it is within the basic rights of the KCTU and her members to exercise freedom of association and assembly. However, as the South Korean Government has used oppressive means to crackdown on trade unions time and again, it is a blatant act of political suppression to undermine the independent trade union movement, which aims to pave the way for the implementation of more relaxed labour policies.
As a matter of fact, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has repeatedly reiterated that the series of union suppression in South Korea infringe the basic principles of freedom of association and assembly. As a result, the ITUC launched a complaint to the Committee ofFreedom of Association of the International Labour Organization (ILO-CFA) against the South Korean Government with regard of the recent arrests. In responding to the complaint, the ILO-CFA released a report on October 2017 to demand the immediate release of Brother Han as well as those who are still in detention for the organization of the 14 November 2015 demonstration. On April 2017, the United Nation Working Group on Arbitrary Detention also described the detention of Han Sang-gyun as an “arbitrary detention” that violates the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and recommended his immediate release.
However, despite enormous disapproval from international community, the South Korea Government continues to imprison Brother Han and arrest Sister Lee. Although the South Korean President Moon Jae-in has granted pardon to some 6,444 prisoners last December, Brother Han was not on the list. Especially even when the vice-chairman of Samsung Group, Lee Jae-yong, who was found guilty of corruption was released after given a suspended sentence just days ago, it further highlights the imbalance of power in labour relations in Korea has yet to be improved after the transition of power in presidency. Independent trade union movement in Korea is still facing stern challenges from Government repression.
We, thereby would like to express our outrage at the Korean Government and condemn all acts of suppression on independent labour movement. Today, taking the opportunity of the Opening of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, we would like to demand the Republic of Korea Government to:
1. Immediate and unconditional release of Hang Sang-gyun, Lee Young-joo and all arrested union members;
2. Revoke the charge of all arrested union members;
3. Stop the suppression on all unions;
4. Respect the rights of workers to freedom of association and assembly.
9 February, 2018
Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions
Labour Action China
China Labour Bulletin
Justice and Peace Commission of the Hong Kong Catholic Diocese
Red Balloon Solidarity Editorial
Labour Education and Service Network
Asia Monitor Resource Centre
Asian Transnational Corporations Monitoring Network
NWSC Labour Committee
League of Social Democrats
Students and Scholars against Corporate Misbehaviour
Neighbourhood and Worker’s Service Centre
Hong Kong Catholic Commission for Labour Affairs
Hong Kong Federation Asian Domestic Workers UnionsAsian Migrants Coordinating Body