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KCTU dismissed link to COVID-19 cases without evidence

Finding opens to question if umbrella labor union fanned fires of 4th COVID-19 wave

Members of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions stage a rally in downtown Seoul early this month. (Yonhap)
Members of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions stage a rally in downtown Seoul early this month. (Yonhap)
The announcement that no COVID-19 infections were reported from a Korean Confederation of Trade Unions rally was based on a report submitted by the labor group with no supporting evidence, an opposition lawmaker said Wednesday.

The finding extends controversy as to whether the mass rally of thousands of people held in central Seoul played a role in worsening the country’s virus situation, and whether the labor group should be held responsible in related developments.

The office of Rep. Choi Chun-sik of the main opposition People Power Party said Wednesday that the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency received just a single-page report from the KCTU containing the number of COVID-19 tests and the number of negative results.

The document did not contain a list of rally participants, but “only had one table printed on it,” a KDCA official said, according to Rep. Choi’s office.

On July 3, 4,701 members of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, one of the two major umbrella labor groups in Korea, gathered in central Seoul to demand changes to labor laws and ask for an improved minimum wage. KCTU members from all over the country gathered for the event.

The labor group pushed forward with the rally despite repeated requests from the government and threats of legal action from law enforcement. Seoul and its nearby regions were under Level 4 social distancing rules, which only allow for single-person rallies.

The rally was originally planned to be held in Yeouido, western Seoul, but the KCTU changed the venue to downtown Seoul after police blocked access to roads and subway stations around Yeouido earlier in the day.

After three COVID-19 cases were discovered among rally participants, the KCTU faced criticism that it was contributing to the already-serious virus situation and helping the virus spread beyond Greater Seoul.

The one-page report the KCTU submitted to the KDCA has served as the basis for the labor group to claim its members had been unfairly discriminated against for exercising their freedom of assembly.

KCTU officials demanded Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum apologize for naming the labor group’s rally as one of the causes behind the ongoing virus wave.

The labor group has said the three KCTU members were infected with COVID-19 while eating at restaurants after the rally, not during the rally. The KCTU added that no additional COVID-19 cases were found among its members, but Wednesday’s finding shows the claim was made without supporting evidence.

The office of Rep. Choi instead asserted that the KCTU was rather unreasonably favored despite breaking social distancing rules, as evidenced by the difference in investigative efforts from authorities compared to their responses to past rallies.

Choi said disease authorities had been passive in responding to the KCTU’s actions, as they simply requested the list of rally participants and waited, merely asking the labor group to run COVID-19 checks among the members by themselves.

Choi pointed out this contrasted starkly with the treatment of conservative groups who had held rallies in October last year, which casts doubt on whether the government has double standards in responding to virus concerns and mass gatherings.

In response to conservative groups’ rally plans for Liberation Day on Aug. 15, National Foundation Day on Oct. 3 and Hangeul Day on Oct. 9, Moon and officials called for strong measures to prevent any illegal rallies from taking place, accusing rally organizers of disrupting the country’s fight against COVID-19.

Moon even likened the street rallies to “anti-social crimes” that could not be based on the freedom of assembly and speech as they “threaten the safety of the community.” A massive number of police officers and vehicles were mobilized to intimidate demonstrators.

Yet the government has shown a milder response to rallies from liberal groups, Choi and others say, dispatching fewer police and making rather toned-down comments.

The police were aware the latest rally could go ahead in central Seoul, but still made no preparations to stop the illegal rally, critics have said.

“Disease authorities have less will to conduct inspection now than in response to rallies from conservative groups, which undermines fairness of applied standards,” Choi said in a statement.

“Authorities should actively obtain the list of participants of the rally and be able to objectively verify the COVID-19 test results of the participants.”

By Ko Jun-tae (