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Teachers’ union on brink of losing legal status

Oct. 20, 2013 - 19:51 By Korea Herald
South Korea’s biggest teachers’ group is facing the loss of its rights of 14 years as a fully authorized labor union, after it voted against the government’s order to strip membership from dismissed teachers.

The labor ministry has given the Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union, or KTU, an ultimatum that it will deregister the union, thus making it unlawful, unless it amends its constitution by Oct. 23 to ban dismissed and retired teachers from being members.

The progressive union, however, announced Saturday that it will not comply with the ministry after the members voted down changing its rule.

Under the current labor law, only employees of a workplace are qualified to become union members. But the KTU’s constitution allows 22 dismissed workers to remain members. Last week, the union asked the members to cast votes on whether it should revise its bylaws, which illegally recognize fired educational workers as members.

More than 80 percent or 59,828 members participated in the vote, with 68.5 percent voting against the change of rule and 28 percent voting in favor, the KTU said.

The loss of its legal status as a labor union will bring immediate, adverse effects, observers say.

It would mean that it could no longer engage in legitimate negotiations with schools, nor be eligible to receive financial support and various benefits from the regional education offices.

For instance, the Ministry of Education currently provides the union with 5.2 billion won ($4.9 million) to subsidize rent.

Also, teachers who currently work full-time for the union will have to return to their schools, which may result in an acceleration of members leaving the union, experts say.

Meanwhile, some 6,000 teachers and civic activists gathered in Seoul on Saturday to protest the government’s treatment of the union.

The KTU claimed that the government’s threat to demobilize the union will actually strengthen their unity.

“After the vote, we are more determined to protest (against the government). I believe no teacher will leave the union even if we lose our status,” said Ha Byeong-soo, a spokesman of the KTU.

He noted that the union is now working with other labor unions in Korea and several international organizations, including the International Labor Organization, to protest against the government’s decision.

By Oh Kyu-wook (