No damage claims for illegal strikes?

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No damage claims for illegal strikes?

The Democratic Party (DP) is pushing for a bill barring damage claims against labor unions for their illegal strikes. The opposition party has defined the bill as a key motion needed to improve public livelihoods. In a recent interview, Rep. Jin Sung-joon, deputy floor leader of the party, defended the bill, arguing that damage suits against unions or a seizure of their assets threaten the basic labor rights and livelihoods of workers. The move has been prompted by Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering (DSME) which filed a 47-billion-won ($34-million) damage suit against a branch union of the combative Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) for its members’ month-long sit-in strike at the company’s main dockyard in Geoje Island, South Gyeongsang.

Legal mechanisms are already established to protect legitimate strikes by workers. Under the Labor Union Act, an employer cannot file damages on unions or employees for its losses from their collective negotiating activities and strikes. Yet the DP wants to push further to protect even illegal strikes that disrupt workplaces and operations of companies. The party wants to prevent companies from filing damage claims against employees if the strikes follow a decision by unions — even if they are violent or destructive. The DP wants to add a legal shield to illegal strikes that remain rampant on industrial sites.

The bill cannot be reasonable and goes against the basic legal principle of demanding liability for intentional illegal activities and damages to others. If unions are made an exception and employers must endure illegal strikes by employees, the country would be breeding a privileged social class which is strictly banned by the Constitution. The Korea Enterprises Federation (KEF) protested that the bill gravely violates the Constitutional right on private properties by helping employees on illegal strikes avoid their responsibility for incurring financial losses to employers.

No country condones illegitimate union activities. France’s move to ban damage claims on collective action in 1982 was found unconstitutional.

The DP did not push the bill when it was a governing party with a majority status in the legislature. The party is attempting to push it after it became an opposition party.

The definition of illegal and legal strikes must be clarified through an agreement between employers and employees. For instance, workers of subcontractors must comply with labor terms of contractors, and yet if they strike against the contractors, their collective action is deemed illegal. The dispute should be resolved through social consensus, not by a political party in a unilateral way.
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