Umbrella union pushes ahead with nationwide rally

Asia's Tech News Daily

Umbrella union pushes ahead with nationwide rally
Members of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions stage a rally to demand improved working conditions for laborers in Seodaemun-gu, western Seoul, Wednesday. (Yonhap)The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, a major umbrella labor group in South Korea, staged a nationwide rally Wednesday to demand improved working conditions for laborers in defiance of authorities’ request to walk back from the plan in fear of a possible virus resurgence.

The labor group announced earlier in the day it would move forward with its plan to hold rallies in 14 areas throughout the country to demand better treatment of irregular workers, unionization rights for all laborers and increased involvement from the government in strengthening employment security.

The union did not announce its rally location in Seoul until the last moment in fear of preventive measures by the police, later announcing it would hold the rally in Seodaemun-gu, western Seoul, starting at 2 p.m.

Police warned they would sternly respond to the rally, dispatching personnel and vehicles to main streets of the city prior to the plan being announced.

In response to the KCTU’s plan, police installed walls of buses in major streets of Seoul while running checkpoints to stop large numbers of rally participants entering major urban streets en masse. Some physical confrontation was expected, as police emphasized upholding virus control measures, which ban most mass rallies from taking place.

At the moment, Seoul and nearby Gyeonggi Province and Incheon are under Level 4 social distancing rules, while other regions are under Level 3 rules.

All rallies other than single-person ones are prohibited under Level 4 rules, and Level 3 rules only allow participants of up to 49 people. This means much of what the KCTU was proposing to hold Wednesday directly violated South Korea’s virus rules.

The KCTU had emphasized it would strictly abide by its own virus control measures in carrying out the rally.

The labor group said it would to use the nationwide walkout as an opportunity to make its voice heard ahead of next year’s presidential election. The walkout is also held to protest the arrest of KCTU leader Yang Kyung-soo on Sept. 2.

The conglomerate of labor unions said around 500,000 of its 1.1 million members would participate in the rally, but other observers predicted much smaller participation. It was reported that around 80,000 of its members were expected to actively participate in the plan.

Disturbances of day-to-day activities were expected in a number of sectors as a number of subordinate labor unions for the education, civil service, manufacturing, logistics and construction sectors announced earlier they would participate in the full-scale walkout.

Authorities had warned they would sternly respond to the rally, vowing to penalize anyone breaking virus control measures. The walkout comes as South Korea plans to officially begin a return to normalcy next month as COVID-19 pandemic has taken a heavy toll on its economy.

“KCTU’s nationwide walkout plan could threaten the virus situation that has been improving recently after hardship while destroying the expectations of a return to normalcy at this very important turning point,” said Minister of the Interior and Safety Jeon Hae-cheol in a meeting Wednesday.

“We urge KCTU to retract its walkout plan in concern of public sentiment and the efforts made so far on controlling the outbreak. Any illegal activities will be sternly responded to with zero tolerance.”

Eyes are centered whether authorities will actually try to penalize those infringing virus rules and clear its reputation of leniency toward labor groups. Wednesday’s nationwide walkout is not the first time that KCTU launched a mass-scale event in defiance of virus rules, and the government has not been so upfront in penalizing those involved.

On July 3, 4,701 KCTU members gathered in central Seoul to demand changes to labor laws and a higher minimum wage. KCTU members from all over the country gathered for the event. The labor group pushed forward with the rally despite repeated requests from the government.

Yet its leader Yang was the only one put under arrest for the rally, and KCTU members continued to stage small-scale rallies in Seoul to oppose the arrest of its leader, and no other penalization efforts were made by the police.

By Ko Jun-tae (ko.juntae@heraldcorp.com)

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