Brussels, March 10, 1997 (ICFTU OnLine): A revised labour law was adopted today (March 10) by South Korea's National Assembly (Parliament) after the ruling and opposition parties agreed on a new compromise text after weeks of deliberation. Trade unions planning to resume their strike movement say the new version falls short of their expectations and still violates internationally-recognised labour standards.
The original law, passed on December 26 in a secret pre-dawn session without opposition party members, gave employers more freedom to lay off employees, hire replacement workers during strikes and impose unpaid overtime while maintaining restrictions on workers' rights to organise trade unions. The law sparked off an unprecedented wave of strikes, in which for the first time in history Korea's two trade union federations, the FKTU and the outlawed KCTU, joined forces, leading President Kim Young-sam to send the text back to parliament.
According to reports from Seoul, the new version adopted at a late session of Parliament today delays for two years the implementation of a clause making it easier for companies to dismiss workers but it upholds the principle of "no work no pay" for striking workers, a key employers' demand.
In an apparent concession to trade unions, it allows multiple trade union organisations at a national level, thus recognising the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU). Multiple unions will not be authorised at the workplace level and the new bill also requires the abolition of salary payments for full-time union officials in five years.
Trade unions say the new text fails to meet their demands. The Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU) calls for the immediate withdrawal of a "politically-compromised labour bill", suggesting that "some articles of the draft are much worse when compared to the bill rammed through the national assembly in December". KCTU officials are equally critical and point out that the new text fails to recognise the right for teachers and public servants to form unions, which was one of their major complaints on the earlier texts. Both trade union groups have threatened to resume strike action should the new text be adopted without changes.
The text was adopted by a simple majority together with three other drafts. It was unclear whether the governing party, Korean National Party (KNP) had agreed to the demands by the opposition parties to revise the security law adopted at the same time as the controversial labour law and whether it has consented to live broadcasting of a legislative inquiry in a bribery scandal involving relatives of President Kim Young-sam.
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