KMWU Urgent Call for Solidarity: Hanjin, Yuseong

 

June 29, 2011


 Reconnect the Electricity on Crane 85!  Stop Impeding Access to Communication, Basic Needs!

Urgent, Ongoing Civil Rights Violations at Hanjin Heavy Industries:

Protesting Workers Dragged out of the Shipyard 

Armed with the court order based on penal code provision 319 and a court injunction prohibiting entry by the aggrieved trade unionists and their union leaders, the Hanjin management hired some 400 private contractors who together with 2000 riot police forces, some 20 police buses and 300 publicly-hired forces and a court official surrounded the Hanjin Heavy Industries shipyard in Yeongdong, South Korea on June 27th and forcibly dragged out peacefully protesting workers who had been on strike against unilateral mass dismissals since December 20, 2010. Some 100 union members roped themselves to Crane 85 where KIM, Jinsuk has been holding her symbolic high-altitude sit-in protest; most were dragged down but a few remained on the crane.

Continuing Struggle atop Crane 85, National Human Rights Commission to Intercede

On June 28, 2011 Ms. KIM, Jinsuk appealed to National Human Rights Standing Commissioner JANG, Hyang-suk for “Emergency Relief” from ongoing civil rights violations under urgent conditions. The National Human Rights Commission of Korea has agreed to deliberate the case in the standing commission.

Between 8 - 9 am on June 27th as thousands of semi-armed forces surrounded the shipyard, Hanjin’s private contractors cut off electricity to Ms. KIM. This left her on the unheated, slippery, high-altitude crane 85 without light in inclement weather conditions of typhoon/monsoon-season heavy rains and winds that shake the crane.

Because of the danger of falling 35 meters to the ground, she cannot safely move around the crane or use her makeshift bathroom (a pail) in such pitch-black darkness. Contractors also blocked supporters from sending up a small camping burner, to stop her from sipping warmed water and blocked supporters from sending up rice porridge. However, after the National Human Rights Commission investigator made an on-site visit to crane 85, the contractors allowed water and rice but irregularly. Unfortunately several workers at mid levels of the crane had already gotten sick with diarrhea from eating old food as food tends to spoil quickly during monsoon season and for some time the private contractors prevented food from coming up the ropes.

Yesterday, Ms. KIM, Jinsook effectively went incommunicado when the 50 private contractors stationed at the base of crane 85 prevented union supporters from sending up her recharged cellphone battery by rope. After walkie-talkie communication to Hanjin personnel management, they told the unionists that the company would not allow her the recharged phone battery. Generally, persons in isolation for even 70 days experience anxiety, panic and serious psychological distress; however, she has been already 175 days atop the lonely shipyard crane. Former KMWU Hanjin Heavy Industries Local Chair, Mr. KIM, Joo-ik committed self-immolation up on Crane 85 after 129 days of aerial sit-in protesting Hanjin’s union repression in 2003. Further, Ms. KIM, Jinsuk has been watching some hundreds of hired-contractors, taking orders from Hanjin personnel managers, preventing her supporters from entry, and cutting off access to the shipyard at the main gate and surrounding her at the base of crane 85, no doubt adding to her experience of isolation.

Cutting off the electricity cut off Ms. KIM, Jinsuk’s influential twitter broadcasts, which had been crucial in giving voice to the difficult struggle and attracted a swell of public support from MPs to a popular Korean drama actress. But importantly, her twitter followers also twitted back, enabling her to interact with people despite her isolation and feel sympathy and solidarity. Under these circumstances, this effective imposition of incommunicado clearly violates basic freedom of expression and constitutes active imposition of cruel psychological distress to someone already in isolation conditions surrounded by company-hired, private contractors separated from her supporters.

Key Witness, Hanjin Chairman CHO Fails to Appear at 6/29 Parliamentary Subcommittee Hearing

Meanwhile Hanjin Heavy Industries chief executive, Chairman CHO, Namho avoided appearing before the June 29th Korean National Assembly parliamentary subcommittee hearing on the Hanjin mass dismissals case by going overseas. Chairman CHO left the country soon after MPs, who had hoped to mediate a resolution to the dispute, invited him to a June 22nd meeting (which he did not attend) to talk about the issue. The ruling Grand National Party MPs suggested leaving the issue to Hanjin management and labor to work out on their own, but the Democratic Party stated it would get a summons to bring Chairman CHO before the parliamentary subcommittee to finally have the hearing sometime in the near future.

This is not the first time Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction has turned a deaf ear to calls for social responsibility. In the Philippines, Hanjin has not provided safe working conditions at the Subic shipyard despite numerous industrial accident fatalities. Instead, the company suppresses the BWI-affiliated Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction Philippines Workers' Union (HHICPWU) with disciplinary action and dismissals and fails to implement recommendations dating back to 2009 from two Philippines Senate hearings on occupational health and safety at the Hanjin shipyard in Subic Bay.

Role of Korean Government

But instead of holding Hanjin accountable, the Korean government placed workers under enormous pressure by mobilizing police forces and issuing emergency arrest warrants for the following trade union officials:

-       KMWU Busan/Yangsang Regional Branch Chair MUN, Cheol-sang,

-       KMWU Hanjin Heavy Industries Local Chair CHAE, Ghil-yong,

-       the organizing director at the KMWU Regional Branch JEONG, Hong-hyeong

-       and for KIM, Jinsuk, the first female welder at Hanjin shipyard, KCTU advisor and a KMWU member

The ILO has repeatedly called on the Korean Government to revise “obstruction of business” without delay to conform to freedom of association principles. However, the Korean government continues to apply this penal provision to industrial dispute; all four are charged with “Obstruction of Business (Penal Code article 314).”

Further, MUN, CHAE and KIM face additional charges on “Break and Enter, Non-acceptance of Eviction (Penal Code 319),” a provision often used in burglary cases and to assert property rights, though here it is being used as grounds to issue arrest warrants for trade union leaders during dispute.

Property rights should not trump rights of a fundamental nature. But the courts ignored fundamental trade union rights when Busan District Court accommodated Hanjin’s request for an eviction order to end peaceful sit-in by using Penal Code 319 (Break and Enter, Non-acceptance of Eviction).

Growing Popular Support and KMWU Position

On June 12th public support surged as popular Korean drama actress KIM, Yeo-jin brought her 89,000 twitter followers through a whole process of solidarity visit to KIM, Jinsuk and the striking Hanjin workers along with a thousand other supporters on the “Hope Bus for a World Without Redundancy Dismissals and Without Precarious Work” up until her indignant arrest by police as they cracked down on solidarity visits. With the re-tweets generated, and with International Metalworkers’ Federation press conference with society’s intelligentsia, president of the KCTU and KMWU and MPs on June 24th and a parliamentary subcommittee hearing scheduled for June 29th where Hanjin Chairman CHO, Namho would be required to give testimony, public attention heightened and the company became anxious to put a cap on the workers’ protest.

As thousands of semi-armed forces encircled the shipyard, local chair CHAE, Ghil-yong signed a one-sheet paper entitled “Implementation Agreement of Joint Labor-Management Consultation” that called off the strike with four provisions: (1) compensation funds would be available for dismissed workers provided that they renounce their claims contesting the legitimacy of Hanjin’s mass dismissals, (2) the company and union will drop criminal suits and try to minimize damages compensation suits against the local and KMWU branch and the company will make efforts to exempt union members from the disciplinary actions, (3) removal of KIM Jinsuk, and (4) to continue consultation accepting the time-off provisions of the new laws (the new laws banning wage payment for fulltime trade union officers.)

KMWU leaders from across the country deliberated the Hanjin case on June 28th at the 65th meeting of the KMWU Central Executive Committee and concluded the agreement was wrong in three major aspects and discussed a plan to support the continuing struggle:

-       the so-called “agreement” violated the KMWU constitution (article 73, Joint Labor Management Consultation Committee),

-       it violated due process in the union (providing information on a provisional agreement to union members, regional branch, central union and process of attaining members’ agreement before the KMWU president, the only official with standing to sign agreements, signs it) and

-       wrong in content (acceptance of mass dismissals, removal of KIM, Jinsuk).  

The labor dispute began when Hanjin ignored an employment security agreement between labor and management and unilaterally dismissed 170 workers. Hanjin justified the mass dismissals by claiming severe business exigencies. But, the corporation also distributed 17.4 billion KRW of company funds in dividends to stockholders the day after announcing 400 should be dismissed, and Hanjin recorded far higher operating profit to sales ratios than other shipbuilders. Also news reports indicate the company has 8 new ship orders from Rio Tinto and numerous other orders. Thus, workers and the local community remain skeptical of the company’s claims that the mass dismissals are justified by an exigent business situation. Further the whole community is in an urgent financial situation owing to the 6 month strike and lockout.

The Hanjin workers and KMWU continue forward with the struggle today, with major protests in Busan and Seoul to call for:

1.    Reconnect Crane 85 electricity and guarantee unimpeded access to communication and human needs for KIM, Jinsuk!  Stop the ongoing intervention of public and private forces in the industrial dispute! Withdraw riot police and private contractor forces from the shipyard and vicinity!

2.    Withdraw the mass dismissals!

3.    Drop criminal and civil charges, Stop persecution of supporters and negotiate in good faith!

 

2011.06.29 evening update:

- At 5 pm on June 29th and as a result of negotiations between the National Human Rights Commission and Hanjin Heavy Industries, the company private contractors surrounding the crane allowed a hand-lantern to be sent up. However, it is completely inadequate in such pitch-black darkness and the cut-off electricity needs to be reconnected.

 

At 5 pm on June 29th Hanjin also allowed a replacement battery for a conventional cellphone with no internet capacity and no possibility to reconnect to her community on twitter. While she can now call someone if she has fallen ill or is injured or other situation, this is not unimpeded access to communication and it appears the company hopes to continue to isolate her from her twitter following and the sympathy and solidarity she could receive from them.

 

- Busan Police Agency has been widening its net of investigations and has summoned for questioning some 104 persons relating to the “Hope Bus” June 11th – 12th solidarity visit. The police summons include people who just made financial contribution to Hope Bus but did not actually make the solidarity visit, indicating that the police forces are cracking down through financial information.

 

- Meanwhile people are trying to organize a 2nd “Hope Bus” to Hanjin for July

 

 

- Korean Employers’ Federation (KEF) told the press that they believe Hanjin’s intention in cutting off the electricity to KIM, Jinsuk on Crane 85 was to ensure her safety from electrical connections put in place by workers, not to pressure her. Meanwhile even former Grand National Party leader and CEO of Hyundai Shipbuilding CHUNG, Mong-jun said that Hanjin’s claim of not having booked a single ship for 3 years (the centerpiece of Hanjin’s claim of business exigency) was hard to fathom since the shipbuilding industry lives on the orderbook. CHUNG also criticized Hanjin on the social responsibility front saying the company should have done more for employment security and expressed longing for the old days when his father was president of Korean Federation of Industry (KFI) commenting that these days the chaebol appear to have lost the love and trust of voters and that parliament should think deeply before requesting business chief executives to testify at a subcommittee. 

***************

Local Trade Union Leaders at Yuseong Piston Ring (YPR)

Begin Peaceful Hunger Strike at Buddhist “Jogye Temple”

 

 

Four trade union officials began an unlimited protest hunger strike, taking refuge at major Buddhist temple “Jogye Temple” on June 29th. Arrest warrants were issued for the four in relation to the lockout at Yuseong Piston Ring (YPR) :

-       LEE, Ku-yeong (local chair of Yuseong Yeong-dong local of KMWU) 

-       KIM, Seong-hyeok (local vice-chair of Yuseong Yondg-dong local of KMWU)

-       Mr. EOM, Kihan (local vice-chair at Yuseong Asan local of KMWU) 

-       Mr. HONG, Jong-in (local health and safety officer at Yuseong Asan local of KMWU)

 

The four hunger strikers are calling for Yuseong Piston Ring (YPR) to :

-       Stop implementing the union busting scenario of an outside consulting firm!

-       Lift the lockout at YPR!

-       Withdraw private contractor forces (called by local union members as “hired thugs”) stationed in the plant!

-       Bargain in good faith!

The arrest warrant charges stem from an incident on June 22nd.  The union members formally announced they were not on strike and attempted to go to work to resume normal operations. Some 150 semi-armed private contractors hired by YPR physically attacked the bare-handed union members trying to enter their workplace. Some 20 union members were seriously injured when the private contractors attacked them. One union member required two surgeries to deal with internal bleeding inside his head caused by being hit over the head by a private contractor wielding an iron pipe.

Police officers simply stood by while the private contractors openly attacked the union members with iron pipes, fire extinguishers and other weapons. After such violent beating and injury, the union members attempted to move to an area where they had a rally permit for a planned union culture festival.  As union members tried to get to the area they were legally allowed by the rally permit, a tussle began as police began impeding their legal right demonstration and beating them with riot police shields. In self defense, union members used objects immediately available having been thrown away by the private contractors who attacked them that morning. Finally police forces then began firing water cannons laced with tear gas at the workers.

However, instead of riot police being charged with willful neglect of duty to protect as bare-handed workers were attacked by semi-armed private contractors, and instead of riot police being chastised for violently clamping down on legal right of assembly by persons who had already filed a rally permit and needlessly creating clashes, the whole causality was turned upside down.

Instead the police argued for severe punishment of the workers and issued arrest warrants for the four union leaders while closing their eyes to the behavior of the riot police.  

The arrest warrants place the union locals in a difficult situation, and an assembly was called on June 27th for the locals to discuss how to handle the situation and elect an acting committee.

Background:

In 2009 YPR, a major supplier of piston rings for Hyundai Motor diesel engines as well as to four major auto assemblers in Korea, had signed an agreement with the Korean Metal Workers’ Union locals at the YPR Asan plant and the YPR Yeong-dong plant to implement the 2 day-shift system with a monthly wage and no night work beginning January 2011. Trade union members ailing with sleep disorders and other side effects had raised the occupational health and safety issues related to night work.

However, in 2011 the 2 day-shift system was not being implemented in YPR and the company was not bargaining in good faith to find solutions to implement the 2 day-shift system.

So, on May 17 – May 18 the KMWU locals undertook a strike ballot. 78% voted in favor of taking collective action.

However the union locals did not call for an all-out strike but rather held a 2-hour trade union education for the day shift union members on May 18.

Merely hours later, the company made an illegal, offensive lockout and the workers remain locked out since.

Papers found in the car of managerial side revealed detailed union busting plans.

Other sources of information: 

 

Hanjin:


International Metalworkers’ Federation

http://www.imfmetal.org/index.cfm?c=26279&l=2

http://www.imfmetal.org/index.cfm?c=26970&l=2

Hangyoreh (one of the main daily newspapers in Korea)

http://english.hani.co.kr/arti/english_edition/e_national/483059.html

also editorial:

http://english.hani.co.kr/arti/english_edition/e_editorial/483747.html

Yuseong Piston Ring:

http://www.imfmetal.org/index.cfm?c=26690&l=2

http://www.imfmetal.org/index.cfm?c=26970&l=2


 

 

Total 106

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