International seminar on Fundamental Workers' Rights in Korea and Further Ratification of ILO Conventions & Related Events: Address by Dan Cunniah, Director of Bureau for Workers’ Activities (ACTRAV)

Address by Dan Cunniah at the International seminar on Fundamental Workers' Rights in Korea and Further Ratification of ILO Conventions & Related Events.

Statement | Seoul, Korea | 18 September 2012

- Mr. Kim Young-hoon, president of KCTU

- Mr. Kim, Dong-man, president of FKTU

- ILO colleagues

- Brothers and sisters from both FKTU and KCTU

I would like to thank the leaders of both FKTU and KCTU for organising this joint seminar with the ILO-ACTRAV. This is a very crucial seminar.

Trade unions have always played an important role in national development efforts. They have provided for the respect for and the protection of basic rights of workers and workers organisations. Trade unions are institutions that promote democracy in a community and provide for the protection and the promotion of basic civic and human rights of citizens.

Despite the rapid economic growth as seen in the Asia region over the decades the inequalities within and between countries are widening. There are unfriendly corporate environments, restricting trade union rights and harassing union leaders. Workers’ rights are not adequately respected in almost all sectors, especially in EPZs, SEZs, civil service and the informal economy. The voice in these sectors is hardly heard and their representation is barely reflected in the policies by the decision-making bodies. Moreover, anti-labour policies and restrictive legislation are enforced to underpin the development of trade unionism. Often, the judicial system is being used to damage the organisation and leadership of trade unions.

Korea is an OECD country. Its GDP for 2010 was 6.1%, in 2011 3.5% and an estimated 3.5% for 2012. It is a leader in terms of economic development in the Asia and the Pacific region. It is a big player in the world economy. There is an expectation that Korea also plays a leading role in terms of showing a path for social development including the respect for human and trade union rights. The other countries in the region tend to emulate and follow countries like Korea. We are pleased to see that Korea has become a donor country.

Korea is a member of the world community. It is a member of the ILO. There is an expectation that Korea shows leadership in the respect for and the adherence to International Labour Standards. At the same time as a member of the ILO member countries have certain obligations towards the organisation.

Since its inception in 1919, the mandate of the ILO was based on the principle of tripartism and social dialogue to promote equity, equality and human dignity. Its core values are now enshrined as Decent Work i.e. helping men and women get decent and productive work in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity. Its aims are to promote rights at work, encourage decent employment opportunities, enhance social protection and strengthen social dialogue in handling work related issues.

Friends, almost 63 years ago, workers and their trade unions throughout the world were at the centre of attention. For the first time, in the ILO, the fundamental right to organize and bargain collectively was made universal through the adoption of Convention No.98. Convention No.98, together with Convention No.87, which was adopted a year before, guaranteed workers and their trade union organizations the possibility of associating freely and taking collective action to defend economic and social interests but also the fundamental public freedom to exercise trade union rights. As we all know now, together with trade union action, the implementation of international labour conventions has paved the way for the exercise of rights to bring about better working conditions in line with human dignity.

But even 63 years after the two Conventions were adopted, difficulties and challenges remain. Of all the fundamental conventions, they are the ones that have been ratified the least. Apart from the slow ratification, questions about the actual implementation of these two (2) core conventions are far from being satisfactory. For instance, of the 160 countries that have ratified Convention No.98, the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations have made observations to at least 104 or nearly two thirds of the nations. But of course, there are factors that explain these difficulties which include the profound transformation of the world of work that we have been witnessing for the past 20 years.

Convention No. 87 on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to organise, 1948 and Convention No. 98 on Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining, 1949, are effective instruments in restoring peace and democracy in many countries where human rights and social justice were deprived and trade union rights were restricted. However, Asia and the Pacific have the lowest rate of ratification of ILO Conventions No.87 and No.98. Seventeen countries in the region have ratified Convention No.87 and twenty countries have ratified Convention No.98. Lack of respect of workers’ rights to organize and to bargain collectively was illustrated in the low number of ratifications.

Hence, the International Labour Conference made a decision to call for the universal ratification of eight ILO core conventions by 2015. The commitment of all ILO member states has been reiterated by the decision of the 15th ILO Asia and the Pacific Regional Meeting held in Kyoto in December 2011, with the request that the member states strengthen respect for freedom of association and collective bargaining as enabling mechanisms to productive social dialogue; they enhance the capacity of workers’ and employers’ organizations to engage in social dialogue and collective bargaining.

To analyse the barriers in implementing the two core conventions and promote the ratification in the region, the “ILO/ITUC-AP/MTUC held an “Asia Pacific Conference on Right to Form Unions and Right to Collective Bargaining” in KL, Malaysia on 6-8 May 2009. The Conference recommended targeting the ratification of C87 and C98 in five countries such as India, Nepal, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. The ILO Bureau for Workers’ Activities (ACTRAV) has had a series of national level activities in collaboration with national trade unions in these countries to step forward the ratification and eventually made some progress. This joint seminar between ILO and the Korean unions is a part of ratification campaign being launched in the region.

The trade union movement in Korea and the international trade union movement have raised serious concerns with regard to trade union rights situation in the country. These are established reports by the ITUC and the violation of these rights as filed with the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association (CFA) and the recommendations of the ILO Committee of Experts.

In highlighting the deficiencies in the Korean labour laws let me cite some of the recommendations made by the CFA over the years.

The Case No 1865 registered on 14 December 1995 is pertinent to the Korean Government Employees’ Union (KGEU) (paragraphs 584 to 749) and this concerns the non-conformity of several provisions of the labour legislation with freedom of association principles and the dismissal of several public servants connected to the Korean Association of Government Employees’ Works Councils for the exercise of illegal collective action.

The Committee reviewed the case in March 2012. The Committee recalled that it had been examining this case, which concerned both legislative and factual issues, since 1996. The Committee observed from its previous conclusions and the information before it that although significant progress had been achieved in terms of the steps taken to revise the legislation, allegations remained concerning the practical implementation of the legislation and the measures appropriate to promote a stable and constructive industrial relations system in the country.

With regard to the provisions of the revised TULRAA concerning the unification of the bargaining channel, the Committee requests the Government to take all the necessary measures to ensure that: (i) when there is no union representing the required percentage to be designated on a representative body, collective bargaining rights are granted to all the unions in this unit, at least on behalf of their own members; and (ii) minority trade unions that have been denied the right to negotiate collectively are permitted to perform their activities, to speak on behalf of their members and represent them in individual grievances.

With regard to the legislation to ban public officials of the Election Commission and the court from joining a trade union, the Committee notes that the Government indicates that the bill suggests to classify public officials in charge of election management at the Election Commission as special service officers whose duties and rights present unique features that mark them off from the general service officials, and accordingly institutes some restrictions on their right to join trade unions. The Committee therefore requests the Government to ensure that public officials working for the Election Commission and the courts have the right to form their own associations so as to defend their interests.

When it last examined the case, the Committee expressed deep regret at the gravity of the allegations involving serious acts of extensive interference in the activities of the KGEU. The Committee deeply regrets that MOEL has not yet accepted the registration of the KGEU. The Committee recalls that the formalities prescribed by law for the establishment of a trade union should not be applied in such a manner as to delay or prevent the establishment of trade union organizations. Any delay caused by authorities in registering a trade union constitutes an infringement of Article 2 of Convention No. 87. National legislation providing that an organization must deposit its rules is compatible with Article 2 of Convention No. 87 if it is merely a formality to ensure that those rules are made public. However, problems may arise when the competent authorities are obliged by law to request the founders of organizations to incorporate in their constitution certain provisions which are not in accord with the principles of freedom of association.

The Committee requested the Government to ensure that public officials’ trade unions have the possibility to express their views publicly on the wider economic and social policy questions which have a direct impact on their members’ interests in their publications and in the course of other trade union activities. The Political Party Act and the Political Fund Act has charged hundreds of labour union officials of KGEU and KCTU in 2909 and 2010. The Committee has recalled from the previous examination of this case its statement that the criminalization of industrial relations is in no way conducive to harmonious and peaceful industrial relations. The Committee requests the Government and the complainants to keep it informed of the situation of these employees and of any appeal filed against these decisions before the courts.

The Case No 2620 registered on 18 December 2007 (paragraphs 573 to 600) is related to the Migrant Workers’ Trade Unions (MTU). The CFA recommended that the Government of Korea proceed with the registration of the MTU without delay, and supply full particulars in relation to this matter. The Committee requests the Government to ensure that the Committee’s conclusions are submitted for the Supreme Court’s consideration. The Committee once again requests the Government to undertake an in depth review of the situation concerning the status of migrant workers in full consultation with the social partners concerned, so as to fully ensure and safeguard the fundamental rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining of all migrant workers, whether in a regular or irregular situation and in conformity with freedom of association principles, and to prioritize dialogue with the social partners concerned as a means to find negotiated solutions to the issues faced by these workers. The Committee requests to be kept informed of the progress made in this regard.

In the Case No 2602 registered on 10-October 2007 (paragraphs 342 to 370) is about the provision of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Adjustment Act (TULAA) concerning “obstruction of business”. The Committee requested the Government of Korea to take the necessary measures, in consultation with the social partners, to amend the provisions and its Enforcement Decree in order to avoid dissolution or suspension by an administrative authority. The Committee urges the Government to take all necessary measures without delay so as to bring Article 314 of the Penal Code “obstruction of business” into line with freedom of association principles and prevent from the possible risks of abuse of judicial procedure on grounds of “obstruction of business” with the aim of intimidating workers and trade unionists.

The ILO id ready to provide technical assistance to the government to overcome any current obstacles preventing the government to ratify convention No.87 and No.98 as well as the other two remaining fundamental conventions.

I expect this seminar to provide an opportunity to discuss the legal and practical challenges in exercising trade union activities in Korea. I hope the seminar looks at the way forward to build a better industrial relations environment benefiting all social partners, enhancing the national competiveness, and promoting decent work.

I wish you fruitful deliberations and a successful seminar.