South Korea must not put Olympics ahead of workers' rights

08 February 2018 23:55


7 February 2018---The BWI along with its South Korean affiliate, the Korean Federation of Construction Industry Trade Unions (KFCITU) and the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) held a press briefing on the eve of the Opening Ceremony of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics at the KCTU headquarters in Seoul, South Korea calling for the release of imprisoned trade unionists including former KCTU President, Han Sang Gyun.  Of the nine trade union members currently in jail are three members of the KFCITU.

In addition, the BWI and the KFCITU highlighted their work to improve the working conditions of all workers including migrant workers during the construction of the sports facilities, athletes’ village, infrastructure projects, and other construction projects related to the Olympic Games.

“Since 2007, when the BWI launched its global Sports Campaign for Decent Work prior to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, we have worked in partnership with our affiliates in the countries hosting mega-sporting events to organize, campaign and mobilize for decent work, living wage, safe working conditions, and respect for trade union rights,” stated Apolinar Tolentino, Regional Representative for BWI Asia Pacific Region.

He continued, “In South Korea, one of the major problems we found was outstanding back wages or delayed payment of wages.  At any one point in time delayed wages totalled nearly USD $12 million.  This is not acceptable.  Without consistent and decent wages, workers cannot feed their families and are left destitute.  We had highlighted the issue of back wages to the International Olympic Committee several times, but unfortunately, they failed to react, stating it was a national problem.  This is not acceptable.”

Another important issue for the union was the issue of occupational health and safety which was highlighted by Lee Jong Hwa, President of the Construction Plant Workers Union, an affiliate of the KFCITU.  He stated, “Four workers were killed in the preparations for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics.”

Construction workers work under deadly conditions, and in South Korea an average of two construction workers die everyday on the job. Lee said, “The PyeongChang Winter Olympics was a good opportunity for the union to launch a public campaign to increase the awareness of occupational health and safety in the construction sector and call for improved safety and health standards.”

KCTU Vice-President Kim Kyoung Ja highlighted the inequality of the South Korean justice system, pointing out that Lee Jae Yong, heir to the Samsung conglomerate was released on appeal 6 February whereas Han Sang Gyun still remains in jail serving a three-year sentence.

She stated, “We are angered by the release of Lee Jae Yong while Han Sang Gyun remains in jail.  This shows that the law is not just and there are two different sets of standards---one for business leaders and another for trade union leaders.  This is not acceptable.  We will channel our anger to continue to struggle for the release of Han Sang Gyu and Lee Yong Joo former KCTU General Secretary and to create a just and more equal society.”

The following are the list of trade unionists currently in jail:

1.     Kim Seong Jong, Member of Korean Construction Workers Union-KFCITU

2.     Hong Man Ki, Korean Construction Workers Union-KFCITU

3.     Kim bong Hwan, Korean Construction Workers Union, KFCITU

4.     Han Sang Gyu, former President, Korean Confederation of Trade Unions                (KCTU)

5.   Lee Young Joo, former General Secretary, Korean Confederation of Trade         Union (KCTU)

6.     Lee San Il, Korean Metal Workers Union-KCTU

7.     Lim Song Ra, Korean Metal Workers Union-KCTU

8.     Park Young Ho, Street Vendors Union-KCTU

9.     Park Jong Sang, Kyonggi Branch, KCTU