South Korea unions are fighting back against the right-wing Yoon Suk-yeol government, reports Clive Tillman. Strikes are planned for July on the back of record-breaking May Day mobilisations.
The Korean Supreme Court appeal ruled on November 13 in favour of Ssangyong Motor Company management and against the reinstatement of laid-off workers. The workers were laid off in 2009 after a bitter stand-off with police and 77 day factory occupation. The November 13 decision overturned an earlier decision in February 7, in which the Seoul High Court ruled the sackings violated Korean labour laws. The case has now been sent back to the Seoul High Court for the rehearing on remand.
Seoul's High Court ruled on February 7 in favour of the 153 members of the SsangYong Motor Company branch of the Korean Metal Workers Union who were unlawfully laid-off in 2009. At the trial, Chief Justice Cho Hye-hyeon ordered the car company to re-instate all the workers and pay each about $1000 in compensation. The court decision was met with tears of joy from workers and their families.
Thousands of railway workers returned to work on December 31 after a three-week strike. The workers were striking against government plans to set up a subsidiary company to operate a KTX bullet train service in competition with the state-run carrier Korail. The 22-day strike was the longest railway strike in South Korean history. Workers across the world held solidarity actions in support of the workers.
Samsung service worker Choi Jong-beom committed suicide on October 31 in protest against poverty wages and harsh working conditions at the company's operations in South Korea. The 31-year-old was found dead in his car the following morning. He left behind a wife and a 10-month-old daughter. Choi was a contract worker employed at a Samsung after-sale service centre that provided repair and maintenance services to customers. The service centre was owned and operated by an outsourced contractor.
Outsourced truck drivers contracted to perform work for the Australian multinational company Boral have been on an indefinite strike since June 25 in Dangjin in South Korea’s South Chungcheong province. Boral specialises in the supply of building materials. Its headquarters are in Sydney and it employs more than 15,000 people in Australia, the United States and across Asia.
Immigrant Chinese bus drivers in Singapore began a two day strike on November 26. This is the first major strike in the tightly controlled city state since 1986. The drivers were employed by SMRT, a state owned public transport company. The strikers were all mainland Chinese – part of a growing number of immigrant workers in Singapore that perform low paid and menial jobs. The drivers are being paid less than local drivers for the same work. The workers are unhappy with housing provided, due to overcrowding and poor facilities.
Hundreds of childcare workers rallied on the steps of the Victorian state parliament on November 17. The rally was organised by United Voice as part of its Big Steps campaign, a national push to improve wages and conditions in the childcare industry. After speeches from union delegates and the Australian Council of Trade Unions, the crowd marched to the Victorian Treasury gardens.
About 60 stevedores and supporters gathered outside the headquarters of Shipping Australia in South Bank, Melbourne, on October 30 to demand that employers agree to introduce a national safety code in the industry. Last month, 56-year-old Newcastle stevedore Greg Fitzgibbon was killed at work when he was crushed by a 20-tonne pallet. The day after this tragic death, the big stevedoring companies, led by employer organisation Shipping Australia, moved to block the introduction of a national code of safety on the waterfront.
Hundreds of armour-clad thugs from a private strikebreaking firm raided the site of a peaceful protest against a management-imposed lockout at the SJM car parts factory in Ansan, South Korea, on July 27. Thirty four workers were injured and many were taken to hospital for treatment of serious injuries. The private strikebreakers were fitted in full riot gear with helmets, shields, sharp iron parts and meter long clubs. They sprayed fire extinguishers to obscure the workers' vision as they went on a club-weilding rampage.
More than 3000 riot police were sent to the Yoosung piston head factory in Asan on May 24 to break up a factory occupation and sit in protest over a company lockout. Yoosung is a manufacturing company that has a near monopoly over the production of piston rings with an 80% share of the domestic market. It is a major supplier for Kia and Hyundai motors.
Despite years of anti-labour laws, government attacks on unions, workplace restructuring and labour “flexibility”, the huge turnout for 2011 May Day celebrations shows that South Korean organised labour is still a force to be reckoned with. On May 1, huge numbers of workers took to the streets for May Day protests across Seoul. Police estimated the crowd at more than 58,000 — making it the largest 2011 May Day rally in Asia. The main demands of the rally were for better workplace security and an end to the casualisation of labour.
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