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Teachers’ union gives gov’t deadline to lift ban

May 22,2019
The Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union (KTU) demanded the government repeal the ban on the union by Friday and threatened to continue to hold its rallies otherwise.

“The Moon Jae-in administration should repeal the Park Geun-hye administration’s outlawing of the KTU,” a union member said at a rally at Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul on Monday morning alongside over 100 members of the union and progressive civic groups.

“Unless the Moon government repeals the decision by [May] 25, Moon, too, will face the wrath of the candlelight rally that ousted former President Park,” said Baek Ki-wan, head of the Unification Research Institute. May 25, this Saturday, marks the 30th anniversary of the union’s founding.

Members of the KTU and civic organizations at the rally said they will continue to hold rallies daily through Friday. They said they will declare an all-out strike against the government should it refuse to take any action on the issue by Saturday.

The KTU was given legal status in 1999 by the liberal Kim Dae-jung government, 10 years after it was founded. It had been vocally critical of the conservative Park Geun-hye administration.

In October 2013, a few months into the Park administration, the union became engaged in a legal battle with the administration. The Ministry of Employment and Labor stripped the KTU of its legal status after the union refused to comply with the ministry’s demand that it expel members who had been dismissed from their schools, as stipulated by the Trade Union and Labor Relations Adjustment Act.

The union protested the decision, stating that the teachers in question were dismissed “for participating in activities to uproot corruption in the education sector and other activities to expand the availability of public education for more people,” and refused to expel the members.

The union then filed a suit to make the ministry reverse its decision, but the first and appeals trials both deemed the ministry’s decision lawful. The case is currently being reviewed by the Supreme Court.

The KTU hoped that the inauguration of the Moon administration would bring about the legalization of the union. It was one of 10 objectives of the Moon government, according to a document entitled “The Policy Directive and Management by the New Government” drawn up by the ruling Democratic Party before the May 9 presidential election in 2017.

“Don’t tell us to wait any longer,” a member of the KTU said at the rally on Monday. “It is time for the government to deliver. Don’t turn a blind eye to the Park administration’s power abuse.”

Members of the union have criticized the Park administration’s outlawing of the union as part of its abuse of power scheme. Evidence was uncovered last year that indicated former Supreme Court Chief Justice Yang Sung-tae may have used politically sensitive trials as bargaining chips with the Park Blue House - including in the KTU case. Yang’s trial is currently ongoing at the Seoul Central District Court.

“The Park administration abused its power in outlawing the union,” said Kwak No-hyun, a former superintendent of the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, at the rally on Monday. “I don’t know why the Moon administration is not taking any action yet.”

While hailed by some for championing democratic values inside the classroom and driving out a culture of graft in the education sector, the KTU has also been criticized for its leftist political ideology and for being heavily motivated by political issues, such as its opposition to U.S. beef imports and the four-rivers restoration project by the Lee Myung-bak administration.

The Moon administration has said it will wait for the Supreme Court to make a decision before it takes any action, which may include working with the National Assembly to amend relevant regulations to legalize the union.

But the administration may take action earlier if Moon is to attend the Centenary Session of the International Labour Organization (ILO) on June 10.

“We are looking into legalizing the KTU before the ILO conference,” a senior-ranking official of the Blue House told the JoongAng Ilbo in November last year. “But we have to discuss the matter closely with the National Assembly and the ruling and opposition parties.”

The ILO has been a supporter of legalizing the union.

BY JEON MIN-HEE, YUN SEOK-MAN [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]


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