Beset teachers’ union slams Lee’s schools policy

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Beset teachers’ union slams Lee’s schools policy

The Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union, frequently in the news and courts recently because of its political activities, held a massive rally yesterday in Yeouido, western Seoul, protesting President Lee Myung-bak’s education policies.

Around 5,000 union members participated, demanding the government reform public education and lower dependence on private education, strengthen welfare in education and halt education policies that ignite “unnecessary” competition. This Friday is the union’s 21st anniversary.

Although 400 police were stationed in the area in case of violence, there were no physical clashes.

The teachers’ union has been accused of holding anti-government protests and being involved with the opposition Democratic Labor Party. By law, teachers and civil servants aren’t allowed to participate in collective political activities.

Yesterday’s rally is the first for the union this year. It insists that its protests are a form of freedom of speech.

Earlier this month, 183 members of the teachers’ union were indicted by the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office for paying monthly membership dues to the DLP.

On Friday, another regional court ruling regarding the union and its members’ political activities was made in Daejeon, adding to a string of inconsistent rulings in past months.

After a second appeals trial, the Daejeon District Court ruled that seven of the union’s executives in the Daejeon, South Chungcheong region were guilty of violating the law that bans teachers from engaging in joint political activities. This overturns the court’s first trial ruling, which said that three of these seven executives, including Lee Chan-hyeon, the union’s Daejeon regional head, were not guilty of violating the law. The second trial fined Lee 2 million won ($1,765), while the other two executives were fined 700,000 won each.

For the other four union members who were deemed guilty during the first trial, the Daejeon court said their original guilty verdicts and fines ranging from 700,000 won to 1 million won were upheld. Prosecutors submitted an appeals case to the court earlier saying that the fines for these four members were too light.

“Collective political activities by teachers are banned and these union members crossed this line,” said the court in its verdict. “As leaders of the public education system, [the teachers] went against their requirement to stay politically neutral.”

“This ruling overturns the decision of the first trial which admits [the teachers’] freedom of speech,” said the union’s Daejeon head, Lee Chan-hyeon.

Experts say that due to the split decisions of the regional courts, an ultimate decision on the union members’ political activities will have to come from the Constitutional Court. Last month, the Jeju District Court convicted three executives of the Jeju chapter of the union for violating the law due to their political activities. In January, the Jeonju District Court acquitted union executives of the North Jeolla chapter indicted on the same charges. However in February, the Incheon District Court found executive-level union members from that region guilty.

By Cho Jae-eun []
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