Korea’s largest progressive group of teachers will stage large-scale rallies demanding that the government restore its recently-revoked legal status, its leaders said in a statement Friday.
The leaders clarified that the protests by the Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union, to be staged on Saturday, will focus on chastising the government decision to outlaw the group for a reported infringement of a labor law that bans dismissed teachers from joining trade unions.
“Stripping a 15-year-old legal status over nine members that are dismissed teachers is an abuse of authority,” the KTU said, adding that the decision to outlaw the group can cause “irreversible” damage to the KTU and schools across the country.
In addition to its legal status, the KTU will ask the government to revise a labor law that bans dismissed teachers from joining unions. The group will also demand that President Park Geun-hye withdraw her nomination for education minister nominee Kim Myung-soo and urge authorities not to restore a state-authored history textbook.
Up to 7,000 teachers from across the country are expected to participate in the city-wide demonstrations, which will take place in eight locations across Seoul including Seoul Plaza, Yeouido Park and Gwanghwamun.
The protests will mark the latest run-in between the controversial group and the Education Ministry, which swiftly announced the withdrawal of all benefits and rights on the heels of a June ruling that officially outlawed the group.
Last week, the ministry filed charges against the teachers who played pivotal roles in the group’s recent anti-government protest, and urged local education offices to enforce disciplinary action against the rest of the participants.
The KTU denounced the charges and demanded the ministry to call off the measures against the teachers.
The controversial decision to outlaw the KTU has been decried by other members of the international community as well.
Education International, a global federation of teachers’ trade unions, said allowing retired and dismissed employees to be union members is allowed across the world.
“EI will stand by the Korean teachers in the defense of their civil, political and union rights, and will stay firm in urging the Korean government to take necessary measures to ensure the re-certification of the KTU, and to respect international labor standards,” it said in a statement.
International Trade Union Confederation called the government’s move an “outrageous decision” and said it was “symptomatic of a legal system that deprives people of their legitimate right to choose union membership.”
The KTU has appealed the case to the Seoul High Court. It also asked the court to temporarily invalidate the government decision to deregister the group until the appellate court reaches a decision on whether or not to retain the KTU’s legal status.
As part of the follow-up measures to disband the KTU, Education Ministry has ordered all of its full-time members to return to their teaching posts by July 21, which was extended from the original deadline of July 3.
But the ministry is expected to face some resistance from education superintendents, most of whom are known as progressives.
Kim Ji-cheol, the education chief of South Chungcheong Province, recently told the local media that the law says education superintendents, not the ministry, have the authority to determine whether KTU members should return to school.
By Yoon Min-sik (firstname.lastname@example.org)