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Issue #1430      30 September 2009

South Korean gov’t threatens public sector workers

The South Korean government last week vowed tough punishment against unionised public sector workers who engage in political activities following their decision to join an umbrella labour group.

The Ministries of Public Administration and Security, Justice and Labour in a joint statement warned that the government will act against such public servants according to the full extent of the law.

Three separate unions representing government workers voted to merge into a single group and to join the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), the more militant of the country’s two umbrella unions.

The merger was approved by 89.6 percent of the voting members, and the KCTU membership by 68.3 percent, according to a preliminary tally of the two-day vote.

The government had issued warnings against the move prior to the vote, arguing that public workers would get involved in political activities, which is prohibited by law, once they join the KCTU.

“Public servants by law are obligated to stay politically neutral,” the statement said. “But the KCTU’s charter stipulates politicisation of labourers. We cannot avoid expressing deep concern,” Lee Dal-gon, Public Affairs Minister, said at a press conference.

The statement also blamed the unions for raising tension when the government was trying to muster unity and efforts to overcome the prolonged economic crisis.

A merger of the three unions – the Korean Government Employees’ Union, the Korean Democracy Government Employees’ Union and the Court Government Employees’ Union – will create a giant labour group of some 115,000 members, expected to formally launch in December. The KCTU currently claims about 750,000 members.

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