The KHMWU will go on an industry-wide strike from 20 July, if the final negotiation with hospital employers, which is scheduled on 19 July, proves fruitless.
Originally, the KHMWU planned to stage one-day strike on 8 July. This had an implication of a warning strike to employers who were reluctant to abide by 2004 collective agreement highlighting the formation of hospital employers’ organization for legitimate representation of industrial bargaining and implementation of 5-day workweek in hospital sector.
For the success of one-day strike the union held a cultural event downtown Seoul in the evening of 7 July, where 8,000 out of 42,000 members across the country were participating.
The KHMWU and hospital employers had come nearer in the bargaining by this day. The hospital employers stopped to persist in authorizing a management consultant to represent employer side in the bargaining table - the consultant was paid 100,000 USD by the employers for 2005 industrial bargaining. The employers withdrew their insistence on two-year term of validity for the 2004 collective agreement. Also, the issues of the formation of employers’ organization for industrial bargaining and 5-day workweek were recognized as bargaining agenda by employer side.
However, the National Labor Relations Commission’s suddenly referred this matter to arbitration on the midnight of 7 July. According to the Trade Union and Labor Relations Adjustment Act (TULRAA), once a dispute is referred to arbitration, industrial action is prohibited for “essential public services.” The arbitration award produced by an arbitration committee ends the dispute, and the award has the same effect as a collective agreement. If industrial action is taken, it is by definition illegal, and management can initiate criminal proceedings. Arrest warrants can be issued against union leaders, and management can call on the police to remove striking workers from the premises. Striking workers and union leaders can be prosecuted and sentenced under article 314 of the Penal Code, which prohibits “obstruction to business.” Hospital services, railroad services, water/electricity/gas supply/oil finery and supply services, banking services and telecommunication services are categorized as “essential public services” by TULRAA.
The majority of KHMWU members cast their ballots for collective action. Concretely speaking, 27,142 members participated in the vote and 18,795 members approved the collective action, which means 81.4% of turnout and 69.3% of approval rating.
During the industrial bargaining, KHMWU has called on hospital managements to form an employers’ organization in hospital sector for legitimate representation, and to fully implement the 5 day-workweek.
In the year of 2004, 104 hospital employers in major public and private hospitals made a collective agreement with KHMWU to form an employers’ organization in hospital sector and fully introduce a five day-workweek in 2005.
In the mean time, a confidential document was revealed that the hospital employers had tried to incite the KHMWU to a strike for the purpose of undermining industrial bargaining and incapacitating the union structure, which was produced by a management consultant hired by the hospital employers.
Without any change of employers’ stance in the bargaining, KHMWU is scheduled to celebrate the eve of collective action on 7th June and then stage an industry-wide strike on 8th June. Also, the union has a plan to hit target hospitals with concentrated picketing between 9th and 19th July.
Nowadays, trade union movement in Korea has been facing severe challenges: KIA motor union; dockworkers’ union and FKTU officials were prosecuted for union corruption; A political fraction obstructed the KCTU congress not to organize a debate on social dialogue; In last April, the local union of Seoul National University Hospital broke away from the KHMWU and affiliated itself to KCTU’s public service federation; The hospital employers have been trying to breach the 2004 industrial agreement, derail industrial bargaining table and regress into company level bargaining rather than industrial level bargaining by undermining the KHMWU structure.
Under these difficult conditions and obstacles, the KHWMU members approved a collective action. It can be said that this is the organizational achievement of KHMWU.
The KHMWU believes that construction and consolidation of industrial unionism is a course of labor movement and the bottom line of industrial relations in Korea. At all costs, KHMWU will do its best to step up industrial unionism and get industrial bargaining settled.