[Documents menu] Documents menu

Breakthrough Victory for Korean Women's Union at Government-Owned Country Club

IUF, 5 December 2003

The IUF-affiliated Korean Women’s Trade Union (KWTU) has won a crucial victory in their struggle for the rights of the many women workers employed on the country’s golf courses. In Korea, there are some 20,000 golf caddies, the great majority of whom are women. Because their legal status as workers in national legislation is ambiguous, golf course owners have used this ambiguity to resist union recognition and collective bargaining. The caddies are not covered by workplace accident insurance, despite a high rate of accidents and injury, and most golf courses prohibit caddies from wearing the eyeglasses which could protect them from injuries to the eyes. They have no protection against unfair dismissals and sexual harassment.

Two years ago, the government promised policy changes to secure golf caddies’ rights, but the caddies are still waiting. Meanwhile, golf course owners are trying to bust the unions that have formed.

On October 16, 110 women caddies—members of the local branch of the KWTU—were locked out of their jobs at the 88 Country Club 30 kilometers from downtown Seoul. They had been struggling to renew the collective agreement they first won in July 2001 after 18 months of struggle. Club management contended that it had no obligation to talk to the union because the caddies are not workers as defined by the Labour Standard Act. Management then temporarily closed and expelled all the union members despite the fact that the agreement was still in force. The electricity for the union office was cut off, and union members were barred from entering the premises.

The union fought back with a series of demonstrations at the gates of the club. Beginning November 5, union members also began demonstrating in front of the Korean government’s Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs, which directly owns the 88 Country Club. They received international support for their struggle when IUF affiliates around the world sent protest messages to the Ministry in response to an IUF appeal.

Union members organized continuous demonstrations at the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs to demand an end to union-busting at the government-owned golf course and respect for trade union rights.

Under pressure, management agreed to negotiate but insisted on inserting discriminatory anti-union clauses into the proposed agreement, such as different work assignments for union members and non-members. Despite constant union demonstrations at the ministry, the government refused to meet with the KWTU 88 Country Club union president to discuss the situation. On November 25, 80 union members demonstrating in front of the ministry attempted to enter the building and meet with the minister after the club manager walked in for direct discussions with the minister. Their way was blocked by riot police, but the union action succeeded in pushing the government to finally intervene to promote a satisfactory settlement.

On November 28, management contacted the union to request a resumption of collective bargaining negotiations. Union members returned to the club, but management only agreed to sign following a continuous sit-down demonstration lasting until the evening of November 30.

Sitting down for three days and two nights in front of the 88 Country Club president’s office induced management to finally sign the collective agreement.

The new collective agreement is the first one to have been successfully renewed by a caddies union in Korea. It guarantees the workers’ right to union recognition and representation, contains provisions on sexual harassment by golfers and guarantees the 60 days maternity leave and one day of menstruation leave per month which the Labour Standard Act guarantees all women workers but which are frequently denied to golf caddies. The union has thanked the IUF and its affiliates for the support and solidarity they received in the course of their difficult struggle.