Gov't officials threaten to not count the votes
Some 110,000 local government officials threatened to boycott counting the votes for the upcoming presidential election, demanding better working conditions.
"It's not our official duty to count the votes, yet we are forced to do so for some 14 hours at a time," said Jeon Ho-il, a representative of the Korean Government Employees' Union, on Tuesday.
Every election, public officials are rounded up to man the voting booths and count the votes, some working on shifts longer than 12 hours at a time. Relevant laws stipulate that the country can round up local government officials, as well as central government officials, public school teachers, bank employees and ordinary citizens vetted by the government, to do the deed.
But in practice, local government officials take up a large percentage of the people assigned to the job, according to the labor unions of public officials.
In the last presidential election, nearly 60 percent of the workforce gathered to man the voting stations and count the votes were local government officials.
These officials would have to show up for 12 hour shifts or longer on election day, and would be paid less than minimum wage, according to the unions.
This year, they are to be paid 121,000 won ($101) for around 14 hours of labor on election day, March 9. This is less than the minimum wage, currently set at 9,160 won per hour.
This is the first time in Korea’s democratic history that public officials have threatened to go on strike for being forced to count the votes for an election.
It follows a court ruling last year that said the National Election Commission does not have the administrative power to require workers to work at voting booths or count votes, but that they are only able to call in workers who have agreed to work for the election.
“If they force us into counting votes without our consent, we are considering filing a legal case against the government,” Jeon said.
He was joined by some 110,000 public officials on Tuesday, who together submitted a petition to the National Election Commission stating they refuse to be forced into working on election day.
They make up around a third of some 300,000 people required to oversee the voting process and count votes in a nationwide election.
“We have repeatedly requested changes in our working conditions to the National Election Commission, but our requests have gone unheeded,” said Lee Hyeon-gu, a member of the Korean Government Employees' Union.
The officials have also requested measures to ensure the safety of officials manning the stations during the hours when Covid-19 patients are allowed to cast their ballots in person.
According to a government plan, confirmed patients and self-quarantined voters will be allowed to visit voting stations and cast their ballots from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on March 9. All voters will have to lower their masks prior to voting for identity confirmation.
BY HA SU-YOUNG, ESTHER CHUNG [firstname.lastname@example.org]