[Viewpoint] Union move is illegal and dangerous

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[Viewpoint] Union move is illegal and dangerous

The nightmare seems to have come true. The Court Government Employees’ Union, the Korean Government Employees’ Union and the Korea Democracy Government Employees Union have consolidated into one group and joined the umbrella labor union, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions.

Since its launch, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions has tried to become a political force, moving beyond the fundamental principle of a labor union - to improve the negotiating power of workers over their working conditions. Therefore, the three public servants’ unions merging and joining the umbrella union were expected steps planned ahead of time by the KCTU.

It is indisputable that laborers should be able to exercise their basic right to unionize in order to improve their working conditions. And yet, in its platform, the KCTU states flat out that it will transform its working members into a political group. It asserts that various systems should be scrapped, and that the union should work to realize its ideology. The civil servants’ decision to join the KCTU, therefore, goes against their duty of serving the public.

Rank-and-file public servants under level six are allowed to join a union according to the law. Public servants are responsible for enforcing laws, managing taxes and helping the people. Therefore, public servants are not allowed to strike by exercising their right for collective action, even though that right is one of the three basic labor rights. The public servants’ union members are also banned from participating in political activities.

The consolidated public servants’ union will account for nearly 30 percent of the KCTU in terms of the number of members and budget. It’s easy to see that in the future, when a government policy is seen as hurting public servants’ interests, they will likely take action and engage in political strikes or activities under the banner of the KCTU. If such a situation arises, it will be practically impossible to expect public servants to observe their constitutionally mandated political neutrality and faithfully perform their duties as stipulated in the law governing civil servants.

The consolidated public servants’ union’s decision to join the KCTU also raises other constitutional issues. Korea’s Constitution sets forth the principle that the legislature, administration and judiciary are separate and independent from one another. The Constitution states that democracy should be protected through checks and balances, and that the people’s basic rights must be guaranteed.

The consolidated union of public servants includes rank-and-file civil servants of the legislature, administration and judiciary.

Participation in political activities against the government and the nation along with other workers in the KCTU as a way to realize their political ideology goes against the separation of powers stipulated in the Constitution.

The government belatedly issued a statement condemning the unionized public servants’ decision to join the KCTU. The unionized civil servants and the KCTU then warned of a massive protest against the government. This response appears to foreshadow the future path of the union.

The main reason cited by the unionized public servants for joining the KCTU was the government’s plan to reform the pensions of civil servants. The civil servants’ pension fund has already been drained, and trillions of won in state money has been poured in to make up for the loss. Reform is inevitable.

And yet the public servants, who should have been in charge of working-level efforts to reform their own pension system, are actually trying to protect their benefits by stopping reform, with political backing from the KCTU.

Eventually, these painful losses will be passed on to the public.

Youngsters who have just graduated from college face a job crisis. Meanwhile, public servants are known for their relatively comfortable and stable working conditions in comparison to other jobs in Korean society. The National Assembly, which created the law allowing the establishment of the public servants’ union, should revise it to force civil servants to return to their original task: serving the nation.

Public servants have their tenures guaranteed and they wield the tools of national power. When they unionize and join together with the politicized KCTU, who will be able to stop them?

*The writer is an attorney of the LOGOS Law LLC.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kweon Oh-yong
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