SOUTH KOREA NEWS
Shipbuilding Industry Workers To Strike Starting July 20, 2016
On July 13th, workers of the shipbuilding industry announced that they will begin a strike on July 20, 2016. Representatives of the Shipbuilding Industry Workers’ Coalition stated, “We are initiating a general strike on [July] 20th to demand that the government end its unilateral restructuring [of the labor force] and begin policy changes for the shipbuilding industry.” Eight unions, including those formed by workers of Hyundai Heavy Industries, Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering, and Samsung Heavy Industries, make up the coalition of shipbuilding workers. The coalition came to the decision to strike along with the Korean Metal Workers Union (KMWU) and the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU).
The announcement came two days after an employee of a subcontractor for the Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering company was found dead as a result of an apparent suicide. This is the third death by suicide of a subcontractor employee in the shipbuilding industry in the past year. Identified as Kim, the deceased employee had worked as a subcontracted worker until May of 2016 when the subcontracting company went out of business. Kim and 23 other subcontracted workers were forced to choose between receiving only 70% of their back wages and continue working or recover all of their back wages but lose their jobs.
Byun Sung-joon, chair of the Samsung Shipbuilding Industry Workers’ Council talked about the effects of restructuring on the workers of Samsung – “1,500 workers were terminated this year. When the industrial banks came into the picture, our joint labor-management talks were disrupted. And as if this were not enough, a plan was introduced to enforce a 40% reduction of the labor force by the year 2019.” In explaining the reason for the shipbuilding workers’ decision to strike, Byun added, “It is not just Samsung, but all shipbuilding companies are unilaterally restructuring the labor force.”
30,000 workers are expected to participate in the strike. The coalition of shipbuilding workers’ unions, along with KCTU and KMWU, plan to continue their strike beyond July 20th. The co-chair of the Shipbuilding Industry Workers’ Coalition, Hwang Woo-chan, stated, “The goal of this strike is to open up a stage for dialogue. If a stage for dialogue is not opened up by the end of our strike, we will continue our fight with more strikes.”
Construction Workers on Strike Indefinitely
The Korea Construction Workers’ Union (KCWU) initiated a strike on June 6, 2016. Close to 30,000 union members gathered at City Hall Plaza to hold a resolution meeting regarding the strike. KCWU decided that it will strike indefinitely while making 18 different demands including adequate wage distribution, direct employment by primary contractors, and better retirement benefits.
KCWU is currently made up of 35,000 members working in the areas of civil engineering, electricity, tower crane operation, and construction machinery. Even though approximately 20,000 union members work in construction machinery, they are categorized as independent contractors and not officially recognized as laborers. This excludes them from wage negotiations and makes them ineligible to receive retirement benefits. Union members have argued that since the company provides the construction equipment, the operator should not be considered an independent contractor but a formal employee with the right to a labor contract.
On June 27th, construction workers of Geomdan New City of Incheon began an aerial protest on a crane 40 meters above ground. They demand adequate wages and an end to harsh working conditions and long hours of heavy labor.
UN to Launch Investigation of North Korean Restaurant Workers Detained in South Korea
According to The Hankyoreh, the United Nations has been conducting an investigation into the detention of North Korean restaurant workers by South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS). 12 North Korean workers are currently being kept under supervision by the NIS at its North Korean Defectors Protection Center (formerly a joint interrogation center). Their families have alleged that they are the victims of a mass kidnapping by the NIS and are being held against their will in South Korea. (For a background on this story, read our earlier post.)
The Hankyoreh reported that officials of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) are to visit Pyongyang towards the end of this month in order to interview family members of the restaurant workers. Last April, the workers’ parents in North Korea sent a written letter requesting assistance from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the president of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). Subsequently since June, the OHCHR has been requesting arrangements to meet with the North Korean restaurant workers on multiple occasions, but the South Korean government has continually denied these requests.
Koreans in the South and Overseas Answer Call for Inter-Korean Conference
South Koreans and overseas Koreans of the reunification movement are pushing for the realization of North Korea’s proposal for an inter-Korean conference proposed for August 15, 2016. In South Korea, members of the June 15 South Korean Committee for Reunification have spoken out, pointing to the need for actions for peace in a time of military tensions. On July 12th, they held a press conference in Seoul to make demands to the Ministry of Unification to allow participation of representatives from the South at the inter-Korean conference. Additionally, as part of a nationwide campaign to realize the inter-Korean conference, they are urging individuals and organizations to hold panel discussions, one-person rallies, performances, filibusters, etc. for the next month.
Overseas Koreans in Japan, China, Russia, Europe and the US have also begun a campaign to collect individual and organizational endorsements in support of the inter-Korean conference.
International Tribunal Rules for Philippines on South China Sea; Philippines Considers Bilateral Talks with China
On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled that China has no legal basis for claiming the disputed waters of the South China Sea. This international case began in January of 2013 when the Philippines brought the case against China for the imposition of its nine-dash demarcation line, which puts much of the South China Sea under the control of the Chinese government [see image to left for nine-dash line]. As reported by The Guardian, “The tribunal found that China had violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights in its exclusive economic zone by interfering with Philippine fishing and petroleum exploration, constructing artificial islands and failing to prevent Chinese fishermen from fishing in the zone.”
The Chinese government, however, has rejected the ruling. China’s media have released reports and editorials expressing opposition to the verdict. The People’s Daily released an editorial stating, “The Chinese government and the Chinese people firmly oppose [the ruling] and will neither acknowledge it nor accept it.” Although China is opposed to accepting the ruling by the international tribunal, it is not opposed to negotiating with the Philippines. In an interview with China’s state media, Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi talked about how to resolve this dispute with the Philippines with diplomacy – “We call on the new Philippine government to bear in mind the common interests of our two countries and the broader picture of bilateral ties and properly handle relevant issues.”
In the Philippines, the newly elected president, Rodrigo Duterte, is considering talks with China over the territorial rights to the South China Sea. Analysts and former Philippine government officials have also recommended that Duterte pursue bilateral talks with China without any intervention from the United States. Former ambassador and secretary general of the Department of Foreign Affairs’ Maritime and Ocean Affairs Center, Alberto Encomienda, is one key figure who has provided suggestions on how to move forward with the talks without including the US. Encomienda stated, “If left to the two (countries), the ruling should not intensify anything. But, if there is foreign intervention, like the intervention of the US in the region, then that is a different situation.”
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