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Employers to Be Discouraged From Taking Legal Action Against Unions

By Soh Ji-young, jysoh@koreatimes.co.kr, The Korea Times, 29 October 2003

The government on Wednesday pledged to draft legislation preventing employers from abusing their right to file compensation suits against unionists for damages stemmed by illegal strikes.

The move comes after labor unions vowed to launch a general strike next month to protest pro-employer labor policies that they claim have led to a string of suicide attempts by union members.

The government will come up with measures to address the matters raised by the labor sector and will do its best to enhance the status and rights of workers, said a joint statement made by Justice Minister Kang Kum-sil, Labor Minister Kwon Ki-hong and Government Administration and Home Affairs Minister Huh Sung-kwan.

Under current law, unionists can have their assets seized by the court if employers file compensation suits against them for leading illegal strikes. Unions have claimed that labor laws do not guarantee their basic rights and therefore force them to engage in collective action that violates the law, subjecting them to millions of dollars in compensation suits.

These suits have been blamed for the continued suicide attempts by union leaders, several of which have been successful, such as the death of a Doosan Heavy Industries unionist early this year and the hanging of a Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction Co. unionist in early October.

The government said it will ask the courts to exercise caution when allowing the provincial seizure of assets from unionists and will also consider taking legal measures against employers who file suits with the motive to block union activities.

We express the deepest regret regarding the continued suicide attempts and self-immolation of union leaders due to labor conflicts in workplaces. But actions which put lives at risk cannot be justified under any circumstances, the ministers said.

Rather than resorting to collective actions such as rallies and strikes, they urged unions to engage in dialogue to solve problems, warning that any illegal activities will be dealt with strictly according to law.

The ministers said they will draw up laws within the year to prevent companies from hiring an excessive number of irregular workers and treating them differently from regular employees.

They also promised the government will come up with measures of its own to be implemented from next year to provide better treatment for irregular workers employed in the public sector.