Corea, República de - Government continues efforts to outlaw teachers’ union

The Korea Teachers and Education Workers Union (KTU) appeared to be losing its battle with the government over its legal status when the Constitutional Court ruled on 28 May 2015 that a labour law banning dismissed education workers from joining trade unions was constitutional. The KTU had been fighting for its legal survival ever since the Labour Ministry decided in October 2013 to outlaw the union for allowing dismissed education workers to become or remain members. Only nine members of the 60,000 strong union fall into the “illegal” category. The clause itself runs counter to international labour standards, which stipulate that unions should be free to choose their own members and leaders. The ILO had made it clear that that the prohibition on dismissed and unemployed workers as members or leaders was a violation of the principles of freedom of association.

If the decision were finalised, the KTU would lose the right to engage in collective bargaining with the government, and all full-time union members of the KTU would have to return to their teaching posts.

The government had long made its antipathy towards the union clear, and continued to do so. At the World Education Forum held from 19-22 May 2015 in Incheon, Korea, the government did not even invite the KTU to participate, despite it being one of the two biggest teaching unions in the country.

The battle was not entirely lost, however. Despite upholding the rule’s constitutionality, the Constitutional Court also said it would not necessarily be lawful to strip the KTU of its legal status, as it that had filed an establishment notice and was functioning legitimately. The court maintained that it was for the High or Supreme Court to decide if the Ministry’s notification was appropriate. “The KTU has operated as a legal union for ten years since its establishment, and the extra-legal status announcement was only made in October 2013 despite dismissed workers having been present before that,” the court said.

On 16 November the Seoul High Court overturned the Supreme Court’s decision by accepting a request to suspend the decision to revoke the legal status of the KTU “until the time of an appeals court ruling and sentence”. The fight for the legal survival of the KTU continues.

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