Corea, República de - Ministry repeatedly blocks migrant union’s bid for recognition

The Ministry of Employment and Labour has repeatedly sought to frustrate the Migrants Trade Union’s (MTU) attempts to win legal recognition and protect the rights of migrant workers. The union first applied for legal recognition on 2005, and in 2007 the High Court ruled in its favour. The Ministry of Employment and Labour, however, consistently refused to register the MTU, claiming its members were illegal immigrants, and instead engaged in a targeted crackdown on the organisation, arresting and deporting its leaders.

On 26 April 2015, the MTU staged a rally in central Seoul to highlight its demands on behalf of the country’s migrant workers, including the right to establish trade unions, to take part in collective bargaining and take collective action, as well as to have more freedom to change their workplaces, and higher salaries. A report by Amnesty International published in 2014 revealed that Korea’s migrant workers are often compelled to work under conditions that they do not agree to, under threat of various forms of punishment including intimidation, violence, bad housing, excessive working hours, no weekly rest days and denial of paid overtime. The Labour Ministry had done nothing to address these issues.

The Ministry’s claims that the MTU sought to represent illegal workers were not entirely factual. The great majority of the country’s 700,000 migrant workers – some 553,000 – were in the country legally on the Employment Permit System visa (although it was a system that left them open to abuse).

On 25 June 2015, in a landmark decision, Korea’s Supreme Court ruled that undocumented migrant workers have the right to unionise and should be included in the scope of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Adjustment Act. In reaching its decision, the Court reviewed relevant legislation from a wide range of other countries, and found that the right to organise for undocumented migrants is the international standard.

The Ministry of Employment and Labour responded with another legal challenge on 7 July, insisting that the MTU make some changes to its regulations before the establishment notice could be certified. Specifically, it demanded a revision to the regulations’ terms on its right to oppose crackdowns and deportations, to fight for the legalisation of migrant workers, and to oppose the Employment Permit System (which ties migrants to an individual employer and limits their time of residence), claiming that these were “political aims”.

The Ministry finally agreed to recognise the legality of the MTU on 20 August after the union changed its “purpose of establishment” to improving the social and economic status of migrant workers in Korea, rather than to abolish the EPS system and grant amnesty to illegal migrant workers.

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