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New ICFTU report submitted to the WTO on Korea

New ICFTU report submitted to the WTO:

Korea: high time to improve a poor trade union rights record Brussels, 15 September 2004, (ICFTU Online): A lack of compliance with the eight ILO core labour standards and, in particular, serious violations of trade union rights are the major problems cited in a new ICFTU report on Korea, produced to coincide with the WTO review of that country's trade policy on 15 and 17 September.

"Korea's actions fly in the face of the commitments it has made at the WTO (World Trade Organisation), the ILO (International Labour Organisation) and the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development)," said the ICFTU General Secretary Guy Ryder. "Indeed, its violations of union rights could well represent the very worst breaches by any of the industrialised countries."

There remain serious restrictions on the right to organize, particularly for civil servants. Workers are often prevented from forming trade unions because employers have created their own docile in-house trade unions which exist on paper only.

There are restrictions on the right to strike for a long list of essential services and the avenue of mandatory arbitration is often used to delay or stall negotiations. Complicated procedures make many strikes illegal, and various legal provisions undermine the right to strike, like the "obstruction to business" provision, which in reality is a far-reaching and extremely repressive violation of basic workers' rights. In addition, trade unions and individual members are increasingly being sued for "damages" incurred during disputes, including suspension of wages and seizure of assets.

Furthermore, a new law on Special Economic Zones came into force in July 2003 which contains preferential provisions in relation to foreign companies investing in SEZs, by exempting them from many national regulations on the protection of labour standards and the environment. These provisions will result in further violations of workers' rights and increase the number of irregular workers.

Many complaints have been voiced about those South Korean companies which invest abroad whose workers frequently face serious violations of labour standards, including harassment and intimidation.

Although Korea has ratified the two core labour standards on discrimination and equal remuneration, there are still significant differences between men and women in the labour market. Wage gaps are much higher than other OECD countries, averaging 36.5% (figures for 2002), and many women work in some form of insecure employment. In addition, working conditions of migrant workers are poor, and quotas for employment of the disabled are far from being reached.

The ICFTU therefore calls upon the Korean government to apply the core labour conventions it has ratified, and to ratify Conventions No. 87 and No. 98 on freedom of association and collective bargaining, and Conventions No. 29 and No. 105 on forced labour as soon as possible.

The report highlights the need for significant reform to Korean legislation. Far-reaching changes are required in practice too. The government of Korea needs to strengthen the right to strike and redraft any legislation which undermines this right. Furthermore, the government should pass the bill on the recognition of civil servants' unions as soon as possible, and conform to the accepted international standards on freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining and the right to strike. It should end the ban on union pluralism and revise legislation concerning Special Economic Zones. More active measures to reduce wage gaps and occupational constraints on employment for women, and positive action programmes, are needed. The ICFTU report also calls for effective measures to eliminate trafficking of women for forced prostitution.

To read the full report:

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