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Mayday in Korea 2005

Police clash with demonstrators.

Protesters clashed with police in Seoul South Korea while protesting poor wages and lack of job security for temporary workers, as tens of thousands of workers celebrated May Day, with mostly traditional rallies and marches across the country.

Over half the work force in Korea are now employed as temporary workers: a result of the "flexibilization" of the labor market that occurred in Korea after the IMF crisis in '97.  Most of these workers are discriminated against as compared to regular workers, and do not have the protection of the law or the benefits that regular workers enjoy.  Abolition of discrimination against temporary workers, and the establishment of equal treatment with regular workers, is an important task that the labor movement in Korea faces.

Leaders of the The Federation of Korean Trade Unions and the more militant Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, spoke at each others gathering, speaking with one voice against the government-driven irregular workers bills.  FKTU's Lee Yong-deuk and KCTU's Lee Soo-ho have been fasting together in front of the parliament buildings in central Seoul, since April 22.  "Through this solidarity...we will win this fight and...root out the discriminatory practices against irregular workers" FKTU's Lee said at the union's May Day event in Yeouido.

Korean Workers show leadership.

The bills, if passed as drafted, would allow firms to hire irregular workers more freely, thus bolstering labor market flexibility.  But labor demands that companies should hire temporary staff only where circumstances warrant, for instance during maternity leave of permanent employees, to prevent excessive reliance on the low-paid irregulars.

The national human rights panel also recommended a fair wage guarantee be stipulated in the bill to protect irregulars from exploitation and also wants only specific industries to use temporary workers.

Will the brave struggles of Koreans and their fellow workers around the world, calling for equal treatment and rights for temporary and two-tier workers, signal the start of an effective movement, that can end the human rights abuses that are affecting workers around the globe?  The choice is ours. We can twiddle our thumbs while our union leaders, here in the west, give our human rights away in back room deals with the corporations, or we can stand up and be vocal and active.  The Korean people are showing us the way.  JB

"Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work."  UDHR 23(2)

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sources:       The Korea Times.
The Korean Herald.
LabourNet Germany.
CBC tv

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Mayday 2005