Published : 2013-10-21 19:00
Updated : 2013-10-21 19:00
The Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union faces delegalization as its members have voted against the government’s order to amend its constitution that allows dismissed teachers to be members.
About 60,000 of its 75,000 members participated in the vote held for three days last week, with some 70 percent choosing to defy the government, even if it would mean their union being deprived of its hard-won legal status.
A month ago, the Ministry of Employment and Labor issued an ultimatum demanding that it rewrite its bylaw by Oct. 23 or face deregistration.
Under the current law, dismissed teachers are not regarded as workers and an organization is not treated as a trade union if it accepts those who are not workers. The law also authorizes the government to order a union to amend its membership policy and delegalize one that refuses to do so.
If the left-leaning teachers’ union is outlawed, which is highly likely, it would no longer be called a trade union. It would lose the right to conclude a collective bargaining agreement with the government and be deprived of various subsidies amounting to 5.2 billion won ($4.8 million) a year.
Furthermore, the union would also have difficulty maintaining its organization as its 77 representatives, who are currently working for the union full time, would have to go back to classroom.
The punishment may seem to be harsh, but the union has invited it. The government has told the union to revise its bylaw since 2010, but it has persistently refused. The union filed a suit with the court to nullify the government’s instruction, but the Supreme Court gave a final verdict against it in 2012.
The union argues that the current restrictions on union membership are outdated. In fact, teachers’ unions in many advanced countries accept dismissed and retired educators as members. In this regard, the International Labor Organization has recommended that the Korean government remove the membership restrictions.
But the union should follow the current law as long as it stays in place. Now, its members are all worked up over what they see as the government’s suppression of labor and are determined to fight against it. Yet they need to think hard about why their union is being denied the right that is recognized in other countries.
The union enjoyed wide support from parents when it was first launched in 1989, but it began to lose their favor as many of its members got involved in politics and tried to instill leftist ideology in students.
The union must realize that the easiest way to secure the right to determine its membership policy on its own is to stay away from politics and focus on teaching students in a way that can regain trust from parents.