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Construction union goes on strike

June 22,2017
Thousands of construction union members marched at Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul from Wednesday morning, in what will likely be a common sight in parts of the city at the end of this month, as the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) intends to go on full strike on June 30.

Some 5,000 members of the national construction union of KCTU marched in front of the central government complex from Tuesday, demanding the central government root out illegal subcontracting practices, investigate violations of the Labor Standards Act and create policies to protect Korean laborers’ rights against contractors allegedly hiring foreign laborers beyond government-issued quotas.

The members marched to the community center of Hyoja-dong, central Seoul, close to the Blue House, on Tuesday, and then from Gwanghwamun Square to Jonggak Station on Wednesday morning.

The KCTU announced it will hold a full strike on June 30, the 50th day since the launch of the Moon Jae-in administration. Its demands that the central government raise the minimum hourly wage to 10,000 won ($8.74), scrap the non-salaried employment system and lessen working hours.

“The June 30 strike is the union members asking the Moon administration to come up with practical and responsible measures instead of getting mired in petty politics,” Han Sang-gyun, lead of the KCTU, wrote in a letter, according to the KCTU.

Han was sentenced last month to three years in prison for the charge of obstruction of public duty by leading violent protests in the anti-government rally in November 2015.

“The strike is not to drag down the current government,” Han said. “It is a continuation of the spirit of the candlelight vigils of Gwanghwamun Square, to ask for protection of labor union members, an increase in minimum wage, the rooting out of corruption in the government, reform of the conglomerate-based economy and an end to non-salaried employment.”

According to a survey by the Korea Labor Institute, 32.8 percent of paid workers were contract workers in August last year. Contract workers, usually on short-term contracts of one to two years, earn 53.5 percent of the monthly wage of salaried workers, according to a study by the Korea Small Business Institute on the income gap between contract and salaried workers last year.

Those going on strike on June 30 include contract workers who are working as teaching assistants or in cafeterias of elementary, middle and high schools.

“A total of 89.1 percent of members of the association of teacher unions agreed to join the all-out strike on June 30,” said Ahn Myeong-ja, director of the public education headquarters of the Korean Public Service and Transport Workers’ Union, in a press conference at the KCTU headquarters on Wednesday.

“Schools need to stop hiring people as contract workers. Even though the central government announced its intention to scrap contract employment in public sector, the Ministry of Education and education offices are not discussing appropriate policies to follow suit.”

Truckers of the Korean Public Service and Transport Workers’ Union also announced their intention to join the all-out rally on June 30 in a press conference on Wednesday.

The association of truckers said it will also host a rally on July 1 to demand the Moon administration follow through with the president’s campaign pledges to renovate the shipping-cost calculation system, by basing the cost on distance traveled and weight of cargoes as opposed to costs being agreed upon individually between each shipper and transportation company.

Police are responding to the strikes in a flexible manner, refraining from dispatching police buses, a common sight at large-sized rallies to prevent violence or stop protesters from marching in certain areas.

They also allowed strikers to march on some streets in the Gwanghwamun Square area on Wednesday morning, which caused some traffic jams in the streets.

Ongoing at the same time in the Gwanghwamun Square area on Wednesday was a rally led by an association of civic groups opposing the deployment of the U.S.-led Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) antimissile system in Korea. Police banned the group from marching behind the U.S. Embassy. The group said it will file for the revocation of the police ban.

BY HONG SANG-JI, ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]