Monday, May 11, 2009

[olympiaworkers] Crackdown in South Korea as President Lee emphasises need for "labour market flexibility"

May 8 2009

Nineteen former workers at the Kor-Tek guitar and bass factory in
Dungchon, Seoul, have been indicted on serious charges relating to the
occupation of the plant late last year. The charges, alongside similar
cases, have led to protests from unions which describe them as "excessive"
and "preposterous".

The original dispute at the plant related to management plans to close the
factory and move production to China. Workers quickly staged a sit-in
strike, but this was broken up by police after only four hours. The
strikers were rounded up, and two local union leaders were given one year
sentences, which were later commuted to suspended sentences.

However, prosecutors have again targeted the workers, seeking a second
round of charges. It is this move which has drawn fire from unions and
other organisations, with Sung Sei-Kyung of the Korean Metalworkers' Union
stating, "The union members thought the case was over, and we feel the
indictments are preposterous. " Prosecutors are pursuing charges of armed
housebreaking against 19 strikers and union members.

The move isn't an isolated one, and follows similar cases. Two union
leaders have recently been arrested over their participation in a protest
against Donghee Auto Co., a company which supplies parts for Kia motors,
four months after the event. Three union officials had already been
sentenced in relation to the demonstration.

Critics are claiming the moves represent an attempt to send a message that
actions around such disputes will be treated harshly, and are part of the
South Korean state's oppressive response to the threat of spreading
industrial unrest.

Meanwhile, the office of president Lee Myung-Bak has been emphasising its
intentions to "solve labour flexibility" i.e. to encourage further
casualisation and the erosion of working conditions through the
Contractual and Part-time Worker Protection Act and the Labor Standards
Act. The law currently requires that companies offer irregular workers
regular contracts after two years of employment, but the Lee
administration is attempting to extend that threshold to four years.
President Lee's spokesman emphasised this aim at a recent emergency
economic council meeting on the 7th of May.

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