Seoul education chief-elect fights for teacher union’s status

By Yoon Min-sik
  • Published : Jun 16, 2014 - 21:35
  • Updated : Jun 16, 2014 - 21:35
Cho Hi-yeon, the Seoul education superintendent-elect, filed a petition Monday to Seoul court to urge it not to strip a left-leaning teachers’ unionof legal status.

The controversial Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union has been on the verge of being deregistered since the Labor Ministry accused it of infringing the labor law last year. The Seoul Administrative Court is due to give its ruling on Thursday.

“If the KTU loses the legal status, a feud within education circles will be amplified beyond reason. This will impede teachers from carrying out their jobs,” Cho said. He said that education workers of various backgrounds and ideologies are needed.

“Education in Korea needs all teachers to pull their wisdom together, and without the KTU that delicate balance would be broken,” he said.

Cho also mentioned that his transitional team for the Seoul superintendent post also includes teachers from the right-leaning Korean Federation of Teachers’ Association. This appeared to be an attempt to refute accusations that his own personal leftist background motivated him to protect the KTU.

Later in the day, 12 other superintendents in regions including Gwangju, and South and North Jeolla provinces also filed petitions. Along with education chiefs, the KTU said 4,424 citizens, over 27,000 teachers had sent complaints to the court,.

The petition by the former professor of sociology appeared on the surface to be an attempt to remain true to his pledge to embrace teachers of all ideological backgrounds.

But it also foreshadowed countless potential run-ins between the progressive education chiefs and central government, which nominated a right-leaning candidate as education chief.

The liberals ― who took the majority of the country’s education posts in June 4 elections ― have been at odds with the Education Ministry over most major education policies. They include the treatment of the KTU, free lunch programs, elitist high schools and teachers publicly expressing their opinions.

If the Seoul court decides to strip the KTU of legal status, the government is expected to enforce measures such as urging union members to leave office. This is likely to result in skirmishes between local education offices and the Education Ministry, providing yet another obstacle for President Park Geun-hye’s administration.

By Yoon Min-sik (