Gov’t challenges leftist teachers’ union

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Gov’t challenges leftist teachers’ union

The left-leaning Korean Teachers and Educational Workers’ Union could be outlawed after the government claimed it is violating the labor union act by accepting dismissed educators as members.

The Act on the Establishment and Operation, Etc. of Public Officials’ Trade Unions stipulates that if people who are not employed as public officials are members of an organization, it cannot be recognized as a trade union, according to the Ministry of Employment and Labor.

“We will soon order that the Korean Teachers and Educational Workers’ Union amend its regulations,” said Shi Min-seok, head of public sector labor relations in the Labor Ministry, on Friday, “and if it does not do so, we will review dealing with it in accordance with the relevant statute.”

According to the law, if a union does not follow through with a corrective order from authorities, the government can decree that it “does not recognize the organization as a labor union.”

In response, the 54,700-member union held a general meeting in Daejeon over the weekend to discuss the threat of losing its official status after 14 years.

The liberal teachers’ union declared that the government’s measures are “a threat to the independence of trade unions” and vowed to fight to retain its legal status.

In a statement yesterday, the union declared it “will not surrender to a suppression that outdates the era” and said it would reach out to the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions and other liberal organizations.

The vociferous education union’s roots date back to 1989, though it was officially recognized by the government in 1999.

The union has faced trouble over its dismissed members before. In 2010, the Labor Ministry requested the union change its policy of allowing fired teachers to be members. The union responded, “The union itself will decide the qualification of members.”

The union filed a request for the corrective order to be nullified with the Seoul Administrative Court, but the court ruled in favor of the ministry. The Seoul High Court and the Supreme Court ruled likewise in 2011 and 2012, and ordered the union to pay a fine of 2 million won ($1,840).

There were about 35 members as of last year that were dismissed teachers. The union elected a hard-line new leader in December, Kim Jung-hoon, whose education policies are at variance with those of the Lee Myung-bak administration.

By Sarah Kim, Kim Han-byul []

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