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Confrontation Escalating over Ratification of ILO Core Conventions
Labor Bills Unlikely to Be Passed Soon
Confrontation Escalating over Ratification of ILO Core Conventions
  • By Jung Suk-yee
  • October 2, 2019, 09:31
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Members of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions at their press conference near the Blue House on June 14

The Cabinet passed amendments to labor-related acts for ILO convention ratification on Oct. 1. Although the ball is now in the court of the National Assembly, it is unlikely to pass the bills with workers and employers showing very different views and opposition parties claiming that the ratification is still too early.

The Ministry of Employment and Labor announced on Oct. 1 that the Cabinet passed the amendments to the Trade Union Act, the Government Employees Union Act, and the Teachers Union Act.

The amendments are to ratify ILO Convention 87 on Freedom of Association, 98 on the Right to Organize, and 29 on Forced Labor. The Trade Union Act amendment is to expand unemployed and laid-off persons’ union membership in accordance with the ILO core conventions. At present, unemployed and laid-off persons can have membership in industrial unions based on previous Supreme Court rulings but they cannot become general members in company unions.

The Trade Union Act amendment comes with measures for preventing their union activities from impeding corporate management. For example, their facility access and use must be subject to certain procedures when they are engaged in union activities in a place of business.

As mentioned above, it remains to be seen whether the National Assembly will pass the bills. This is because the confrontation between the ruling and opposition parties has reached its peak with regard to the recent justice minister appointment as well as the bills themselves.

Both the business and labor communities are opposed to the bills, too. The former is claiming that measures such as substitute work in the event of a strike have to precede the ratification in view of the unique characteristics of labor-management relations in South Korea. The latter has demanded an unconditional ratification of the conventions.

The South Korea-EU FTA is another consideration for the South Korean government. The European Union initiated dispute settlement procedures, claiming that South Korea did not fulfill its duty for the ratification that is stipulated in the Trade and Sustainable Development Chapter of the free trade agreement.