The majority of education superintendents in South Korea decided Wednesday to order full-time members of a banned teachers’ union to return to their teaching posts.
The move came after the Education Ministry urged local education chiefs to comply with its decision to outlaw the Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union. The KTU saw its legal status recently revoked for infringing on a labor law that prohibits dismissed teachers from joining trade unions.
The ministry also urged them to carry out follow-up measures that include: disallowing full-time members, cutting all support for the group, revoking its right to negotiate on behalf of its members and banning it from collecting membership fees.
|Leaders of the teachers’ association hold a news conference to call for unionized teachers to return to teaching posts on Tuesday. (Yonhap)|
As of Wednesday, 13 of 17 education offices across the country said they have either already ordered the KTU members to return to schools or are planning to do so soon.
In a major blow to the controversial KTU, reelected education chiefs in Gwangju and South Jeolla Province were among the 13 that followed government orders.
The southwestern region has long been a political stronghold for leftists and the education offices in those regions were among the first to say they will continue their partnership with the KTU, recognizing it as a legitimate trade union.
Although education superintendents do not have the authority to directly refuse government orders, some expected them to show signs of support for the KTU as did Min Byung-hee, the education superintendent for Gangwon Province.
Min, a former member of the KTU himself, criticized the ministry for ordering the union members to return immediately to schools, calling the government measures an “overreaction.”
Cho Hi-yeon, a former left-leaning professor who was elected to head the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, refused to comment on the matter, after the education office for the nation’s capital also decided to follow the government’s orders.
The seemingly lukewarm support for the KTU does not mean that the partnership between progressive superintendent-elects ― who will head 13 education offices across the country ― and the KTU has diminished.
On the contrary, most of them vowed to continue cooperating with the group, which is natural considering they share similar ideas on major educational policies, such as providing equal learning opportunities and promoting welfare in schools.
But the tentative reaction from the progressives suggests that the new education chiefs may be reluctant to be embroiled in a full-fledged confrontation with the government before their terms even kick off.
Despite the uphill battle that awaits them, the KTU have vowed to continue their struggle against what they call “unfair oppression from the government.” The group said the struggle against “killing the KTU” is only just starting to take off, and vowed to continue with protests, while demanding the Park Geun-hye administration step down.
Teachers who are members of the progressive teachers’ group will take an early leave from school on Friday to participate in an anti-government demonstration near Seoul Station, central Seoul. The KTU will also announce a joint-statement denouncing the Park administration in early June.
By Yoon Min-sik (firstname.lastname@example.org)