Issue date
09 Feb 2018

As the world turns its attention to the Winter Olympics starting in South Korea today (Friday), a delegation of trade unionists has met with officials at the South Korean embassy to call for an end to the imprisonment and violation of rights of trade unionists.

In 2016, over 585 Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) officers and members were arrested for protesting regressive labour reforms under the former Park Geun-hye government.

The ex-president of the KCTU, Han Sang-gyun, has been imprisoned for nearly two years for exercising his democratic right to freedom of association and peaceful assembly.

And the ex-General Secretary of KCTU, Lee Young-joo, has had criminal charges brought against her for organising the People’s Mass Mobilisation protest in November 2015.

South Korea has a history of systematic abuse of trade unionists with many of its leading companies such as Samsung, LG and Hyundai, involved in union-busting activity. It was included in the International Trade Union Confederation's 2017 Global Rights Index as one of the ten worst countries in the world for working people.

TUC President Sally Hunt said:

“The Winter Olympics will be a wonderful showcase of Korean culture. But there’s a dark side to the country for working people. South Korean workers have been arrested and locked up simply for peacefully protesting their right to fair treatment at work.

“The Korean government must recognise the right for workers to organise as trade unions to protect their interests. The world is watching their abuses, and we are demanding justice and freedom for Han Sang-gyun and Lee Young-joo.”

Editors note

- The TUC President met with officials at the South Korean embassy to call for the immediate release of Han Sang-gyun, all charges to be dropped against Lee Young-joo and for South Korea to honour the international obligations it has made to respect ILO conventions on workers’ rights. 
- The TUC has also held a rally today outside the South Korean embassy to show solidarity with trade unions in South Korea and echo the call being made by trade unions around the world that their union leaders must be freed and pardoned. The TUC action outside the embassy was part of a global day of union protests.
- Han Sang-gyun was elected President of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) in December 2014 up until his incarcerated in 2016. Lee Young-joo, was General Secretary of the KCTU until her arrest in 2017. Prior to that she was dismissed as a teacher in 2016 and the Korean Teachers’ Union was de-certified by the then Park Guen-hye government.
- The Trades Union Congress (TUC) exists to make the working world a better place for everyone. We bring together more than 5.5 million working people who make up our 49 member unions. We support unions to grow and thrive, and we stand up for everyone who works for a living.