South Korea: “The world must wake up and see what is happening here”

Since last year hundreds of trade union leaders and members have faced criminal charges for taking part in protests and union activities. Today on the 19th of August starts a second hearing in the appellate court for the 15 members of the Branch of Tower Crane Operators Union of the Korean Construction Workers Union affiliated to the Korean Federation of Construction Industry Trade Unions in South Korea. These committed trade unionists were sentenced to up to 3 years in prison. 


Earlier this summer Niklas Enström from the Swedish Electricians’ union and Karin Ström from Unionen made a prison solidarity visit in Seoul to meet with Jeong Min-ho, who was given a three-year sentence. Currently the union is appealing his sentence along with those of the other members. Here are their impressions: 


“How can it be a crime to protect the rights of workers? Construction workers die in accidents every day, and if the union isn’t there to look after the safety of workers, then who will? Companies and governments that profit from making business in South Korea must open their eyes and react to what is happening here,” said Niklas Enström. 


“The South Korean government tries to improve the competitiveness for their businesses by cracking down on the rights of workers. This is against all international conventions. Protecting the democratic rights of their people will in the end benefit the whole society,” said Karin Ström from Unionen. 


On the same occasion Kyösti Suokas, vice-president of the Finnish Construction Workers Union Rakennusliitto, visited Han Sang-gyun, president of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) who in July was sentenced to five years in prison. 


“To meet with this man was a great honor but also one of that saddest moments in my career. The accusations against him is absurd. To put people in prison for demonstrating and standing up for their rights is not worthy of a democratic society and I hope the world will wake up notice what is going on in South Korea,” said Suokas after visiting Han Sang-gyun. 


“The South Korean government can´t forever close their ears from international complaints of the violations of the human rights. But the complaints need to be loudly enough,” Kyösti Suokas wrote in a recent blog post.


CLICK HERE to read it in Finnish. 


The BWI will continue to monitor these cases until justice prevails and all trade unionists in South Korea are released.