World’s biggest labor watchdog coming to S. Korea

World’s biggest labor watchdog coming to S. Korea
Posted on : Jan.17,2014 16:55 KSTModified on : Jan.17,2014 17:01 KST

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John Evans, OECD-TUAC General Secretary
OECD-TUAC General Secretary John Evans discusses Park government’s suppression of labor
By Im In-tack, staff reporter
The Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD (OECD-TUAC) and International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) - the biggest labor union of the world - will visit South Korea to investigate the status of the Park Geun-hye government‘s labour suppression, including misuse of its power to counter the recent Korail workers’ strike. The Park government has disregarded recommendations and concerns expressed by several international organizations and refused to talk with the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), which visited South Korea early this month.
OECD-TUAC General Secretary John Evans was interviewed by email on January 16 before he comes to Seoul on Jan. 18. He said, “We are strongly opposed to criminal punishment of workers and trade unions for what are deemed unlawful strikes. Otherwise the pressure for a new OECD Special Monitoring Process will increase”.
TUAC has 59 affiliated trade union centers in OECD countries, representing 70 million workers. It is also an advisory committee that oversees the OECD’s decision making. Evans earned a degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics from Oxford University in 1973 and he has been actively involved in labor issues as an expert since then. This is his second visit to South Korea after attending the 3rd OECD World Forum in Busan in 2009.
Hankyoreh: What made you decide to visit Seoul?
John Evans: The ITUC and TUAC are sending a mission at the request of our Korean affiliates to examine the reports of ongoing non-compliance with ILO Core Labour Standards and violation of trade union rights. In recent years there has a been a disregard by successive governments of recommendations made by the ILO’s Committee of Freedom of Association, however it now appears that with measures such as the attempted de-legalization of the Korean Teachers’ Union and the refusal to recognize the KGEU the situation is moving backwards. The TUAC Plenary Session passed a resolution last month expressing their concern at the situation and representatives of the KCTU,FKTU,KTU and KGEU met with the OECD Secretary General at that time - however the repression still appears to have increased since then and so we wish to express solidarity with trade unions and their members in their on-going struggle for recognition and respect of trade union rights in Korea.
Hani: What do you think about the Korean situations in terms of labor repression, particularly cancellation of the KTU registration and abuse of government authority against the railway workers’ strike?
Evans: The policy pursued by the Korean government, characterized through non-compliance with internationally agreed labour standards, violation of commitments made with regard to the recognition of labour standards (ILO, OECD, EU-Korea FTA), limitation of scope of action for unions through restrictive laws and the use of repression as means in industrial relation conflicts, is a cause of serious concern for international trade union organizations and human rights advocates. It should also be of concern for international organizations as the policy adds to a race to the bottom in terms of labour Standards.
Hani: In 2008, the OECD special monitoring process on labour relations in Korea was suspended. However, most of the Korean unions are insisting that the OECD should resume or reopen the monitoring process. Do you think it is possible for the OECD to revisit the Korea issue? Could you explain what the “Special Monitoring Process” is?
Evans: The “Special Monitoring Process” was part of the conditionality regarding Korea’s accession to the OECD in 19996 and 1997. It was a process based on “peer pressure” in order to help bring Korean labour laws in line with international standards as outlined in ILO conventions - a commitment given by the Korean government before joining the OECD in 1996.Key elements of the process where stock-taking missions by the OECD to the country and subsequent debates of their findings in the OECD’s Employment, Labour and Social Affairs Committee. The Monitoring Process was a means to maintain pressure upon the Korean authorities with the aim to make them live up to the commitments made; it also contributed to the legalisation of independent unions at the time including the KTU and the KCTU itself as well as to the reform of laws such as the third party intervention law. However there was unfinished business when the process was ended in 2007 which is why TUAC didn’t support that decision.
Hani: Do you think the special monitoring process on Korea is necessary again? Which kind of procedure should be taken in order to reopen it?
The Korean government should start a process with the ILO to ratify conventions 87 and 98, otherwise the pressure for a new OECD monitoring process will increase. With new countries such as Columbia seeking to join the OECD and the OECD examining labour rights there it will be damaging to the OECD’s credibility if existing members are seen to move backwards on past commitments.
Hani: So far, the ILO CFA made 13 recommendations to the Korean Government on the violation of the Convention 87 and 98. However, the government has not taken any action to follow up. In addition to this, the government has not ratified the core conventions yet. What do you think about it?
Evans: Trade unions are insisting on the ratification of the ILO conventions 87 and 98 by the Korean government. However, even without the ratification of these conventions, the Korean government is obliged to comply with them.
The adoption of the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and its Follow-up in 1998 commits Member States to respect and promote principles and rights in four categories, whether or not they have ratified the relevant Conventions. These categories are: freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining, the elimination of forced or compulsory labour, the abolition of child labour and the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.
The OECD Guidelines for MNEs also require that Korea as a member country of the organisation has to comply with core labour standards and thus to recognize and implement trade union rights. The ongoing violation of this commitment cannot be accepted by the OECD in the view of TUAC;
However the respect of these conventions is in the interests of Korea itself - where trust needs to be built in industrial relations and conflict handled through negotiation between employers and trade unions - not the suppression of rights.
Hani: The members and leaders of the Korean Railway Workers’ Union (KRWU) workers are facing criminal punishment merely because they went on a strike. The government considers this strike illegal because the issue of the strike is beyond the wages and working conditions. The striking workers were demanding a withdrawal of the government’s plan for railway privatization. From the perspective of the international labour standards, what do you think of the decision on the lawfulness of a strike?
Evans: The examination of the situation is one of the reasons I am coming to Korea but we are strongly opposed to criminal punishment of workers and trade unions for what are deemed unlawful strikes - this is clearly is out of line with ILO’s interpretation of the right to strike..
Hani: Would you let me know the purpose of this visit and plan? Whenever the leaders of the international organizations asked to meet the government officials with concerns about the labor repression but failed nowadays.
Evans: I have already explained the purposes of the mission. I am hopeful that we will have useful meetings with the government and begin to resolve the issues. The government’s refusal to meet with international trade union leaders in order to discuss the current situation of industrial relations in Korea contributed to damage the reputation of the government beyond international trade union organisations. It may contribute to encouraging action through bilateral trade agreements including the EU-Korea trade agreement.