On 2 June 2016, 15 members of the Tower Crane Operators Branch of the Korean Construction Workers Union (KCWU) affiliated to the Korean Federation of Construction Industry Trade Union (KFCITU), BWI’s affiliate in South Korea, were found guilty under the criminal charges of “blackmail” and “obstruction of business” for merely engaging in collective bargaining negotiations. Two leaders were sentenced to two to three years incarceration, while the other 13 were given suspended prison terms ranging from 8 to 18 months under the same charges.
Initially, the charges were dropped; however, after the major national mobilization last November, where more than 100,000 people protested against the labour reform policies of the conservative government, the Prosecutor’s Office re-opened the case. The charges are clearly politically motivated, and an attempt by the government to undermine the South Korean trade union movement and the KCWU that organises around 90 per cent of all tower crane operators in the country.
“The police are now intentionally attacking tower crane operators because they know that we are well organised. They see normal trade union activities as a threat to public security and treat us as terrorists when all we want is decent jobs with safe working conditions,” says Lim Chae Seop, acting president of the Tower Crane Division of the Korean Construction Workers Union.
The tower crane operators are accused of “blackmailing” their employers for demanding decent working conditions and the hiring of union members by a tower crane company. This in an industry that kills around 1-2 workers every day due to unsafe working conditions and long chains of sub-contractors.
The ongoing crackdown on South Korean trade unions is the most severe in decades and aims at weakening the labour movement, which plays a strong role in South Korean politics. Recently the president of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions Han Sang-gyun was sentenced to 5 years prison-time for organising a series of peaceful rallies against labour reforms that would make it easier for companies to fire workers and attempts by the government to curtail freedom of speech and press.
Join our call on the South Korean government to drop all charges against the 15 trade union leaders of the KCWU and stop the repression against trade unions.
The first appeals trial of the 15 will take place on July 22, 2016. To support the campaign, you can do the following:
1. Create a video solidarity message demanding the release of the tower crane operators and other trade union leaders in South Korea.
2. Take a photo with a “Stop the attacks on Korean unions” sign and share it on social media. .