Education Ministry to punish protest teachers

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Education Ministry to punish protest teachers

In an ongoing standoff between the government and members of the Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union (KTU), the Ministry of Education vowed to discipline teachers from the beleaguered liberal group who participated in a protest rally last Friday.

The authorities also demanded a list of the rally participants from local education offices.

The move came after about 1,000 teachers left their schools early on Friday to join a demonstration against a court ruling that stripped the KTU of its legal status.

The Education Ministry said that the act of cutting school hours short to join a rally violates labor law and the Public Education Officials Act. The KTU teachers argued that they gave advance notice and adjusted class hours in order to execute their democratic rights. The ministry countered that the teachers went ahead with their protest despite school principals rejecting their written requests to leave early.

The ministry asked local city and provincial education offices to identify the rally participants and submit a list of names by today. It said that it will decide on specific disciplinary measures after reviewing the list but earlier hinted it will pursue punishment by law.

“We already sent notices to every school to let teachers know that leaving school early for a demonstration is illegal,” said an Education Ministry official.

In 2006, a total of 2,300 teachers received corrective measures for leaving work early to join a rally opposing the adoption of a teacher evaluation system.

But it remains to be seen whether the ministry can legally discipline the union’s teachers.

By law, the right to punish teachers belongs to education office superintendents. And the matter will become even thornier when a batch of newly elected liberal superintendents begins their term tomorrow.

Of 17 contested positions, liberal candidates won 13 seats in the June 4 local elections, and eight of those victors were former KTU members, who will likely sympathize with the demonstrators and oppose the move to dismiss the teachers’ group.

Ever since the Seoul Administrative Court handed down the controversial ruling, KTU members have protested it. Once an entity is stripped of its legal status, its members are deprived of collective bargaining rights.

The ministry is in the process of taking further action by demanding that teachers working full time at the union return to their schools. But the teachers are refusing to comply with the request.

The group lodged an appeal to the Seoul High Court last week, saying that the ruling is politically motivated.

“We believe that the Park Geun-hye administration simply disagrees with [our] political ideology. This is the court that tries to disband us,” the KTU said in a statement.

The union plans to protest further and is raising funds for upcoming demonstrations, encouraging members to donate 100,000 won ($98) each.

The Seoul Administrative Court said that its decision was made on grounds that the union allowed dismissed teachers to join the organization.

By law, terminated workers are barred from joining labor unions.

BY PARK EUN-JEE [ejpark@joongang.co.kr]



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