The South Korean government is planning to move ahead with ILO core convention ratification and labor law revision at the same time in order to strengthen workers’ rights to organize.
Employment and Labor Minister Lee Jae-kap held a press conference on May 22 and said that the government is making preparations so that discussions can take place on three conventions and related bills at the upcoming regular session of the National Assembly. South Korea is yet to ratify four ILO core conventions and the three he mentioned are Conventions 87 and 98 on the freedom of association and Convention 29 on forced labor.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) has 189 conventions, including eight core conventions. South Korea became an ILO member in December 1991 and has ratified four out of the eight so far, including those related to bans on discrimination and child labor. The other unratified core convention is Convention 105 on forced labor.
Convention 87 is to define the basic principles of the freedom of association and ensure voluntary grouping and membership. Illegal unions such as the Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union can become legal once it is ratified. Convention 98 stipulates workers’ rights to organize and bargain collectively and protection of trade unions from anti-union discrimination. Convention 29 is to prohibit forced labor. Alternative military services should be modified once it is ratified.
“As for law revision for the ratification of Conventions 87 and 98, the government will come up with reasonable alternatives based on various groups’ opinions including those of the Economic, Social and Labor Council released on April 15,” the minister explained, adding, “When it comes to Convention 105, more review is needed in view of domestic penal systems.”
The government’s plan has a bumpy road ahead with entrepreneurs’ and workers’ opinions showing a stark contrast and general elections scheduled for next year.
The Korea Employers Federation released a statement on May 22 and expressed regrets, saying the government’s plan is biased toward the labor community. “The community’s demands for laid-off workers’ and retirees’ labor union membership, forced labor prohibition significantly undermine industrial competitiveness and corporate management,” it said, continuing, “Substitute work during strikes and non-criminal punishment for unfair labor practices should be included in the plan as well.”
“We welcome the plan though belated,” the Federation of Korean Trade Unions said in its statement, adding, “Those irrelevant to the ratification, such as substitute work during strikes, non-criminal punishment for unfair labor practices, and longer effective periods of collective agreements, should not be included in the ratification bill the government is working on to submit to the National Assembly.”