Confronting strike seasonThe best way to stop the bad habit of illegal strikes and protests is to charge fines that correspond to the damage caused. If protestors are sued and made to pay for the physical and mental damage they cause, their illegal actions would decrease even if it were just for financial reasons. The Korean court, however, seems to have a tendency to be compassionate in its rulings on cases involving compensation of damage arising from illegal strikes and protests and it has been criticized for failing to listen to society’s demands to stop illegal actions such as these.
According to an analysis conducted by the JoongAng Ilbo of court rulings on 30 compensation cases involving damage caused during major strikes occurring from 2005 to 2009, the compensation award was much lower than the actual damage incurred. In 40 percent of the cases surveyed, the compensation amount was found to be less than one-tenth of the amount claimed.
There was even a case in which a company sued a labor union that conducted an illegal strike for damages in the amount of 10.1 billion won, but the company only received around 200 million won in the court ruling. There may be a difference in the method of calculation of damages, but the numbers make us wonder whether the court was too lenient because of the age-old perception that “labor unions are socially weak.”
Furthermore, there was not one case out of the 30 in which a ruling was handed down within a year of the case being filed. Twenty-five percent of the cases dragged on for five years, which is clearly a dereliction of the court’s duty.
Other advanced countries recognize the right to strike, but those who do know they could be fined for the damage that others incur as a result. The New York City transit strike of December 2005 is famous because the Transport Workers Unions Local 100 went on strike but returned to work just three days later after being hit with a $3 million fine. In the United Kingdom, the fortune of a labor union executive who hid money in foreign accounts was traced and confiscated.
They say the annual spring labor offensives will start soon. The most realistic way to treat the chronic Korean disease of habitual illegal occupancies, firebombs and protests with steel pipes is to counteract these actions with criminal punishment and compensation for damage. This includes not only tangible damage to facilities, but also intangible damage such as mental shock and defamation. The court should take this opportunity to review its rulings on cases involving punitive damages for illegalities, as other countries do. We hope to see the court give this matter the serious consideration it deserves.