KTU leadership holding a press conference in front of the Supreme Court.
KTU leadership holding a press conference in front of the Supreme Court.

Korea: Supreme Court annuls decision to delegalise union

published 3 September 2020 updated 10 October 2023

The decision to delegalise the Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union (KTU) has been annulled by the Supreme Court of Korea. The government had ordered the delegalisation of the organisation in 2013.

KTU lost its legal status seven years ago on the grounds that it had allowed nine dismissed teachers to keep their union membership, said Hyunsu Hwang, International Director of the KTU.

This Supreme Court decision on 3 September follows an appeal filed by the KTU to rulings against it by lower courts in June 2014 and January 2016.

In his conclusions on the ruling in favour of the KTU, Chief Justice Kim Myeongsu invoked several times the Korean constitution and international labour standards.

Workers’ trade union rights protected by the constitution

The Supreme Court ruled that the Korean constitution allows all workers to enjoy basic trade union rights. The provision used to cancel the KTU’s union registration was a regulation for enforcement, an administrative order, which was subordinate to the constitution. He added that the national administration could not dissolve a trade union by administrative order. Therefore, the delegalisation of KTU was invalid.

Welcoming the Court’s ruling, Hwang said the KTU had been the main target of attacks by the former Korean President, Park Geun-hye, who said that “unionised KTU teachers are making this nation RED”.

Education International: Proud of KTU’s relentless campaign

Saluting this great news for trade union rights in Korea, Education International’s President, Susan Hopgood, said: “This win has happened because of the KTU’s campaigning, perseverance, and determination over a very long time. Congratulations to the KTU leaders, current and past, and all the KTU members who have stood up against the draconian action taken in delegalising the union. I am proud that we have been with you on this long journey.”

2015 Resolution

In its 2015 Resolution on Delegalisation of the Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union (KTU), Education International demanded that, amongst other actions, the South Korean government immediately withdraw its delegalisation of the Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union. The Resolution stressed that this reversal of union recognistion represented a serious violation of worker rights and called on the South Korean government to comply fully with international labour standards by respecting and promoting freedom of association for Korean educators.

In a letter dated 7 September, KTU thanked Education International and its affilaites for their support, saying: “We will never forget that the solidarity shown by our sisters and brothers in teachers’ unions under the banner of Education International was the most powerful force in the fight”.