Resolution on delegalization of the Korean Teachers and education workers Union (KTU)

published 25 July 2015 updated 9 July 2018

Resolution on delegalization of the Korean Teachers and education workers Union (KTU)

The 7th Education International (EI) World Congress meeting in Ottawa, Canada, from 21nd to 26th July 2015:

Noting that:

1. In 1996, the Republic of Korea joined the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). In doing so the Republic pledged that it would guarantee the freedom of association and union activities of teachers. The legalization of the KTU in 1999 was in line with this international commitment. However, Article 2 of the current Teacher Union Act states that only practicing teachers may be members of the union. The office of Park Geun-hye focused its attention on nine dismissed teachers who worked at the KTU head office, and in 2013 threatened KTU with deregistration.

2. Education International (EI) and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) requested the International Labour Organization (ILO) to urgently intervene with the government of the Republic of Korea on the threat to cancel the registration of the Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union (KTU) if it did not amend its constitution. EI immediately issued an Urgent Action Appeal regarding this case and teacher unions over the world sent protest letters to President Park Guen-hye.

3. In March and again in October 2013, the ILO urgently intervened with the Korean government concerning allegations of serious infringement of trade union rights in the Republic of Korea, in particular the threat of cancellation of the registration of the KTU and the need to amend the Trade Union and Labour Relations Adjustment Act with regard to the provisions prohibiting dismissed and unemployed workers from keeping their membership and making non-union members ineligible to stand for trade union office.

4. The aforementioned members of the KTU were dismissed during the previous administration for activities which included expression of their opinion on the governments’ education policy or for making donations to progressive political parties. These workers, whose dismissals are also suspect under international law, are considered members of KTU under its constitution.

5. On October 24th, 2013, the Government cancelled KTU’s registration as a trade union. On 19th June, 2014, a court upheld the government’s action. The KTU lost its legal status. However, on 19th September, the Appeal Court accepted an injunction from the KTU and asked the Constitutional Court to decide whether Article 2 of the Teacher Union Act is in line with the Korean Constitution. On 28th May, 2015, the Constitutional Court decided that the article is constitutional. With this ruling, the Seoul High Court’s process resumed and on 2nd June, the Supreme Court decided that the union would lose its legal status. This is a major attack on the education trade union movement in Korea.

6. The Global Campaign for Education (GCE) called on the South Korean authorities to respect the basic union rights of teachers by passing a motion unanimously at its World Assembly in Johannesburg, South Africa, in February, 2015.

Recalling that:

7. Allowing retired and dismissed workers to be union members and leaders is internationally accepted, but Korean labour law does not reflect this reality. The KTU has been deprived of legal recognition simply because its constitution allows dismissed teachers to stay in the union or stand for union office.

8. The right to decide whether or not a trade union should represent retired or dismissed workers for the defence of their specific interests is a question pertaining only to the internal autonomy of all trade unions.

9. Through its various committees, the International Labour Organisation has repeatedly urged the government to repeal this provision from its legislation.

10. The ILO Committee on Freedom of Association (CFA) has repeatedly criticized these exclusions, reiterating that, "It urged the government 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. Noting with regret that the government has not repealed these provisions, the Committee once again urges the government to do so." In March, 2014, the CFA stated that “The Committee takes note with deep concern of the decertification of the KTU … ensure the re-certification of the KTU without delay.”

11. The Education International 7th World Congress therefore mandates the Executive Board, in cooperation with member organizations, to request that the South Korean government:

i) Immediately withdraw its measure to delegalize the Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union, as this measure itself represents a serious regression of worker rights to the past; and

ii) Amend the Trade Union and Labour Relations Adjustment Act and Teachers Union Act, as has been repeatedly requested by the ILO Committee of Freedom of Association; and

iii) Comply fully with international labour standards by respecting and promoting freedom of association for Korean educators.