EI has learned that Jeong Jin-Hoo, president of the Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union (KTU), has begun a hunger strike in protest at the dismissal of 183 teachers for allegedly ‘joining’ an opposition political party.
The 183 members of KTU were charged on 6 May for allegedly joining the Democratic Labor Party (DLP), an opposition party, based on the fact that the individuals made private donations to the DLP. The authorities have interpreted these contributions as membership fees, despite the protestations of the individuals concerned.
According to the KTU, the teachers made the donations to the political party based on their own private beliefs, and not as KTU affiliates. No KTU member has ever formally joined the DLP.
The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology made its decision to dismiss the 183 teachers on 23 May for breaching a political neutrality clause which teachers and civil servants are expected to abide by under South Korea’s Civil Servants’ Law. This decision was made despite the formal legal process not even having begun. Of further concern to EI is the fact that school principals who have made donations to the ruling party, on the same basis as the 183 teachers, have never been subject to the same harsh disciplinary measures from the political authorities.
The KTU has condemned this decision as a political act ahead of South Korea’s local elections on 2 June, 2010. Consequently, KTU President Jin-Hoo has begun a hunger strike to highlight this injustice.
In recent years, EI has drawn the attention of the Lee Myung-bak administration to a number of incidents where illegitimate or disproportionate disciplinary measures have been taken against KTU leaders and members who take part in trade union activity. EI believes the recent sanctions constitute anti-union discrimination and supports the statement of UN Special Rapporteur, Frank La Rue, on the promotion and protection of the rights to freedom of opinion and expression.
At the end of his 12-day investigation in South Korea, La Rue stated that: “While South Korea has made considerable strides since 1987 in the area of human rights, there is a concern that human rights as a whole and rights to freedom of expression in particular, have been curtailed over the past two years”.
EI expresses its solidarity with the KTU and condemns the dismissal of the 183 teachers. EI has also urged the South Korean Government to take the necessary steps to immediately reinstate the teachers and to ensure that South Korean teacher trade unionists can exercise their basic human and trade union rights without fear of persecution by the authorities.
Earlier this month, EI also lobbied the Trade Union Advisory Council (TUAC) to request that the OECD writes to remind the South Korean authorities to take the necessary steps to bring its labour laws in line with international standards, as promised by South Korea when it joined the OECD in 1996. TUAC’s concern about the deterioration of the labour rights situation also prompted TUAC to send a fact finding team to South Korea in May which is reporting to the OECD Economic, Social and Labour Affairs Committee.