About 40% of Korea’s public-sector trade unions broke laws, rules

2023.05.18 09:59:01 | 2023.05.18 10:23:56

The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions’ logo [Courtesy of KCTU]이미지 확대

The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions’ logo [Courtesy of KCTU]



South Korea has set out to overhaul collective agreements and trade union rules in the public sector that involves public officials, teachers and public institutions as part of the government‘s labor reform as four out of 10 public-sector unions were found to have abused their power by imposing influence beyond the scope stipulated in relevant laws and regulations.

The government plans to make corrective orders for those that violate the law and encourage voluntary improvement for unreasonable practices through management assessments of public institutions.

About 179 institutions, or 37.4 percent of the total, violated relevant laws and regulations, the Ministry of Employment and Labor found Wednesday after an investigation of collective agreements at 497 institutions in the public sector, which include 165 public officials, 42 teachers and 272 public institutions, from March. Also, six out of 48 civil servant and teacher trade unions’ rules possibly violated the trade union act. A collective agreement refers to labor rules concluded between employers and trade unions.

There are 199 public-sector trade unions under the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), 157 that are non-affiliated and 123 under the Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU). The KCTU had the highest rate of illegal and invalid collective agreements at 51.8 percent. That of civil servant unions in the KCTU, in particular, reached 96.3 percent. The figure was 35 percent among non-affiliated unions and 17.1 percent among those in the FKTU.

Violations of illegal or invalid collective agreements were mostly prioritizing collective agreements that are contrary to laws and regulations, stipulating provisions that aren’t parts of negotiations such as policy decisions and exercise of appointment rights, defining only specific unions as groups eligible for collective bargaining or collective agreements, and limiting the right of employers and unions to terminate collective agreements.

Other rules that may violate the trade union act include allowing the chairman to suspend the rights of union members who instigate or lead union withdrawal or to nominate a secretary general rather than allowing union officers to do so through a direct, secret and anonymous vote.

The Song-pa District of Seoul and the Song-pa branch of the National Union of Civil and Public Servants, for example, signed a collective agreement which requires the union to intervene in employee promotion or exclude employees designated by the union from certain duties in 2021.

There are also cases where the collective agreement of a public institution requires that employees eligible for union membership be dismissed if they leave or don’t join the union, the minimum wage is set below the statutory amount at 800,000 won ($597.5) per month and parental leaves are permitted only to employees who have worked for more than a year.

Some public institutions even ban workforce reduction for restructuring and mandate more than 30 percent of union-recommended members on the promotion review committee. As many as 135 institutions, or 28.2 percent, had collective agreements that, although not illegal or invalid, allow unfair preferential treatment to unions or union members to engage in unreasonable intervention in personnel management and managerial rights.

The Ministry of Employment and Labor plans to give corrective orders for illegal collective agreements and trade union rules and impose criminal punishment in the event of non-compliance for violating the national labor relations act. It will work with other relevant ministries to encourage unions and institutions to take corrective actions on their own in the case of unreasonable or invalid collective agreements.

“We plan to promote voluntary improvements by linking corrective actions to public-sector assessments as public institutions are sensitive to them,” said an unnamed official from the ministry.

By Lee Jin-han and Choi Jieun

[ⓒ Pulse by Maeil Business Newspaper & mk.co.kr, All rights reserved]