South Korea: Stop turning a blind eye to attacks on trade unions

25 October 2016 20:12

Hundreds of union members arrested and millions in unpaid wages before the construction for the 2018 Winter Olympic Games – the world needs to react against the violations of workers’ rights in South Korea.    

In July, an accident occurred at the construction of the Ice Arena, the venue for the figure staking and short track staking for the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang resulting in the death of one worker and seriously injuring another. 

In addition to hazardous working conditions, hundreds of workers are practically forced to work without pay on the Olympic construction sites. The Korean Construction Workers Union (KCWU) estimates that construction companies responsible for the construction of sports facilities and other related projects of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics have delayed workers’ wages of a total of about 5.7 million euros (70 billion Korean Won) in the past two years. It is only due to the consistent efforts by the union through several strikes, protests, and sit-down demonstrations that these wages have now nearly been paid to workers.   

Meanwhile, 585 trade union leaders and members have been prosecuted for participating in the November 14, 2016 national mobilization against Park Geun Hye’s efforts introduce neo-liberal reforms. One of these leaders is Han Sang Gyun, President of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, who was sentenced to five years in prison in July. Today is second hearing in the appellate court.    

In June 15 leaders of the tower crane operators branch of the KCWU were sentenced to imprisonment and fines for "blackmailing" and "obstruction of business" when trying to negotiate with a company that refused to hire union members. South Korea is one of the world’s largest trade nations. Governments and multinational companies trading with South Korea has a responsibility to act against the current witch hunt against people who have done nothing but exercised their fundamental rights to organize and protest peacefully. South Korea is an advanced country with good opportunities to build their growth on innovation, welfare and social security, rather than worsening the conditions for workers.    

The attacks on the country's trade union movement will ultimately lead to more work place deaths, more unpaid wages and an even wider gap between the rich and the poor. We demand that all governments and multinational companies that have relations with South Korea take responsibility by voicing their concerns against the government’s attack on workers’ and human rights.    

Despite the consistent repression by the South Korean government, the Korean Federation of Construction Industry Trade Unions (KFCITU) has been persistently outreaching and organizing construction workers working in projects related to the 2018 Winter Olympics.  In addition, they have been advocating the construction companies, the national and provincial governments, and the 2018 PyeongChang Local Organizing Committee to ensure health and safety at the work sites by implementing proper and concrete safety protocols.    

The Swedish Federation of Building and Wood Workers (SBTF) which has had a long-standing relationship with the KFCITU has pledged its support and solidarity to the KFCITU’s on-going organizing efforts related to the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics.  The SBTF will provide both technical and financial support to the KFCITU.     

“Trade unions in Sweden and in particular the Swedish Building Trades Federation have for more than a decade supported our efforts to not only organize construction workers and build the capacity and strength of our union.  For this we are extremely grateful and we are pleased with their recent announcement to provide financial support for our efforts in PyeongChang,” stated Baik Seok Geun, President of the KFCITU.     

He continued, “We look forward to working with them in the build-up for the 2018 Winter Olympics to ensure that all workers including migrant workers have decent wages, safe and health working and living conditions and dignity.”    

“The BWI welcomes the SBTF announcement of its support to the KFCITU as it is a further commitment by the SBTF to provide solidarity to the trade union movement in South Korea but also BWI’s global sports campaign which the SBTF has been an ardent supporter from the very beginning of the campaign starting with the 2010 World Cup in South Africa,” stated Ambet Yuson, General Secretary of BWI.    

Yuson who is participating in the 2-day “2016 Sporting Chance Forum” hosted by the U.S. State Department’s George C. Marshall Center, will push for greater accountability and transparency of international sporting federations such as FIFA and IOC. “In the case of South Korea, the IOC must also be held accountable as the host of the Winter Olympics.  As the IOC works towards implementing its 2020 Agenda, one of the key points must be ensuring decent work standards for the all workers to achieve a clean, safe, and decent Olympics.”