Education International
Education International

South Korea: Court decision restores KTU as a legal trade union

published 22 September 2014 updated 5 August 2015

On 19 September, the Seoul High Court restored the legal status of the Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union (KTU) as a legal trade union.

KTU had lost its legal status in June when the Seoul Administrative Court upheld a Governmental decision to outlaw the teacher union on 24 October 2013. KTU filed an injunction with the High Court that was accepted. The judge also accepted a request from the KTU that the Constitutional Court reviews the legitimacy and compliance of the article 2 of the Teacher Union Act with the Korean Constitution. The article 2 of the law prevents dismissed teachers from being members of a trade union.

According to the judge, "the deprivation of the union's legal status possibly goes against the principle of excessive prohibition ensured under the Constitution, and the article 2 of the Teacher Union Act possibly infringes upon teachers' rights to organisation and equality."

The judicial decision is in line with the recommendations of the International Labour Organisation that has repeatedly urged the South Korean authorities to repeal the provisions prohibiting dismissed and unemployed workers from keeping their union membership and making non-union members ineligible to stand for trade union office.

“We congratulate the KTU for this important victory in their struggle to restore the legal status of the union. We appreciate KTU’s hard efforts in safeguarding the rights of the Korean teachers,” said EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen.

Since June, among KTU’s 78 fulltime union officials, nearly 50 have returned to their school because the Ministry of Education has threatened to fire them otherwise. The Ministry has already taken steps to dismiss 30 others who refused to return. The High Court ruling has suspended the Ministry's disciplinary measures.

The High Court procedure will resume after the Constitutional Court decides whether the article 2 is in line with the Constitution. This decision could take more than 6 months.

In May 2015, South Korea will host the World Conference on Education, which will reflect on the Education For All (EFA) goals since the Dakar World Education Forum of 2000 and will address the education goals of the post 2015 agenda. While the Dakar Framework for Action stated that the EFA national strategies and implementation should be developed involving representatives of all stakeholders, it would be ironic if the South Korea administration hosted the World Education Forum while outlawing the KTU.