28 APRIL 2004

FKTU A very comprehensive April 28 activities report by KLSI-IIC. [Yoon Youngmo}
The trade union movement in south Korea is quickly shifting its gear into the April-May labour rights campaign following its engagement in the recent election campaign.

Quick links
FKTU and April 28 in Korea
KCTU April-May Campaign
Musculoskeletal Disorder Recognition Campaign
Reform of the "Workers' Compensation" Administration System
KCTU and April 28

FKTU and April 28 in Korea

April has, in the last 4 years, become, for the labour movement in Korea, a month of concentrated campaign on workers' health and safety. In October 2000, the Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU) decided to observe April 28 as a day of mourning for workers killed or injured at work. The first FKTU April 28 activity took place in 2001, when it held a special ceremony at the Industrial Accidents Victims Monument in Seoul. The monument was erected in July 2000 following an initial proposal by the FKTU to the government in 1998.

This year, the FKTU will hold its fourth Industrial Accidents Victims' Day on April 28 in line with the International Day of Mourning, to "mourn for the workers who died of industrial accidents and illnesses and to give comfort to the injured workers" and to "raise awareness of industrial accidents in the society as a whole, especially among the government and the employers, in order to enhance the right to safe and healthy work". The FKTU has designated the period from April 26 to May 1 as a week of mourning for the victims of death and injuries at work to carry out a series of activities. During this period, the FKTU and its affiliated unions will highlight the right to reinstatement of the victims of industrial accidents to their original work, campaign against voluntary medical treatment (on the basis of agreement between the management and accidents victims without making an industrial accidents report), promote the consolidation of industrial accidents related provisions in the collective bargaining agreements, and urge workers to make public reports of the employer attempts to hide industrial accident incidences. All FKTU affiliated unions will be asked to put up placards related to the April 28 campaign.

On April 28, the FKTU will hold a special memorial service at the Industrial Accidents Victims Monument in Seoul. It will invite the Minister of Labour to deliver a speech and the president of the national employers organisation to lay a wreath at the monument. It will also make two special awards to workers for their valour as victims of industrial accidents.

KCTU April-May Campaign

The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) has designated the period from April 26 to May 1 as a "week of action" on six major themes. The KCTU has adopted the following demands as the key themes for the week-long action: end the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the Korean troop dispatch to Iraq; convert atypical jobs into regular employment and eliminate discrimination against workers in atypical employment; end labour repression and strengthen labour rights; uphold workers' right to health and the right the safe work; strengthen social public service and social reform; and end the footloose liberalisation and structural adjustment.

KCTU has developed a programme of activities involving education and action on each of the six themes. In the area of "workers' health and safe work", the KCTU's action focuses on "musculoskeletal disorder", "reform of the workers' compensation administration", and "broader public awareness on the issues of workers' health".

Musculoskeletal Disorder Recognition Campaign

The KCTU has called on all its affiliated enterprise level units to demand "medical examination" of all workers to ascertain the exposure to musculoskeletal disorder, to conduct a survey of workplace hazards, and to carry out safety education. KCTU affiliated unions will be demanding the management to convene a meeting of the statutory "safety and health committee" in each workplace to carry out these activities. Furthermore, the KCTU has requested all its affiliated unions to conduct a survey of serious industrial accidents (those involving at least three months of medical treatment or death) in the first three months of this year. The results of the MSD survey and accidents survey will be brought together on April 28 in a protest demonstration at the Ministry of Labour. The KCTU will publish to results of these surveys and call on the Ministry of Labour to step up inspection and supervision activities and concerted actions to address the problems.

Reform of the "Workers' Compensation" Administration System

In a special action targeting the Korea Workers Welfare Corporation, a statutory body responsible for the administration of the "Industrial Accidents Compensation Insurance", the KCTU will be demanding a reform of the "workers' compensation administration system". The KCTU's reform demands stem from the current practice where workers are required to prove that there is a causal relationship between their work and the illness they suffer. The seriousness of the practice of requiring workers to provide the "proof of work-relatedness" was brought to attention recently with the increased reports of musculoskeletal disorders and work-related cancer. KCTU is demanding that the "burden of proof" should lie with the "workers' compensation administration authority" so that the burden of providing evidence against the causal relationship between workers' illness and work lies with the public agency.

At the same time, the KCTU is calling for the establishment of unified and realistic criteria for recognition of work-related illnesses. This demand stems from the repeated accounts of the unwillingness of the "workers' compensation administration authority" to recognise various symptoms of MSD as work-related illness, depriving workers of the access to the insurance benefits and opportunity to receive the needed medical treatment. In another related demand, the KCTU is calling for the change in the "application form" which workers are required to fill out in accessing the "industrial accidents insurance". The current "application form" requires the applying workers to obtain the signature of the employer indicating his/her awareness of the application. This requirement has given rise to malicious obstruction and manipulation by the employers, leading to unnecessary conflicts between the workers and the employers.

KCTU is calling on the Korea Workers Welfare Corporation to comply with the statutory requirement for speedy determination of insurance claim application. While the administration body is required to conclude its determination of any claim within 7 days of application, it has become "normal" for workers to wait an average of 60 days to learn of the "fate" of their application. The abnormal length has given risen to many problems for workers, such as, jeopardising their employment in their relations with their employers, distracting workers from the required medical treatment, and forcing workers into financial difficulty as they have to shoulder the financial requirement for the initial medical treatment.

The KCTU believes these reforms are necessary to re-orient the "industrial accidents compensation insurance" and its administration body as a genuine "social security" mechanism and to remove the unnecessary barriers erected against workers' access. KCTU is conducting a month-long "one-person" demonstration in front of the Korean Workers' Welfare Corporation, starting from April 9 to conclude on April 30. It will hold a special forum on April 27 on the "Reform Agenda for Workers Industrial Accidents Insurance Administration System" to launch its engagement with the various governmental bodies to bring about the required reforms, including legislative reforms.

Workers' Health Declaration KCTU is also organising a special newspaper advert on the issues of workers health. It will organise 10,000 signatures from the trade union movement, victims of industrial accidents, civil society, and the public health specialists organisations. The declaration, schedule to be adopted at the May Day rally, condemns the neoliberal regime, which intends to "sacrifice workers' health and life to save the capitalism from crisis". The declaration proclaims "a concerted struggle against the barbaric situation" to defend workers' health and life from the avarice and violence of the capital. The declaration will be published in the major newspapers on April 30.

KCTU and April 28

The trade union movement associated with the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) adopted April as the month of campaigns on workers' health and safety in 2002. Up until 2001, the KCTU had organised series of health and safety campaigns in July. The concentration of OHS campaigns in July has its roots in the first ever nationwide OHS campaign in 1988 by the various OSH groups and trade unions (which later became the KCTU) at the news of the death (on July 2) of a 15-year old worker, Moon Song-myon, due to mercury poisoning. The death aroused a nation-wide outcry from public health organisations and trade unions, setting a momentum for new workers' health and safety movement. The various OSH organisations (expert groups, victims' groups, regional groups, and trade unions) came together to support the new trade union movement in developing an effective OSH campaign capacity. Together, they organised special memorial service for Moon Song-myon in July every year, which signalled the launching of a month-long OSH campaign on specific themes, usually involving concrete legislative or reform agenda.

In 2001, the KCTU and the various OSH groups which had cooperated with the KCTU in the "July OSH Campaign" made a review of OSH campaign calendar in view of the changed situation. Before 1997, much of the trade union campaigns for collective bargaining agreement and wage concluded by the end of June, allowing the unions and OSH groups to shift the momentum onto OSH issues in July. But, CBA campaigns began to stretch out over a longer period, as unions had to deal with difficult issues of retrenchment and structural adjustment. This meant that it was not possible to organise unions for a month of focused OSH campaigns while most of them were still deeply involved in CBA campaigns. This led the KCTU and its allied groups to rethink the timing of the focused OSH campaigns. The consideration evolved around two concerns: securing sufficient trade union time and resources to focus on OSH issues and laying a platform to incorporate OSH issues into the CBA campaign agenda. From these considerations, and the awareness of the April 28 International Day of Mourning, the KCTU and its OSH allies decided, in late 2001, to adopt April as the OSH campaign month, to bring their campaigns to culminate on April 28, setting a platform for the launching of the May Day campaign. The first April OSH campaign by the KCTU and its allies was organised in 2002.

In conjunction with the trade union movement's April OSH campaign, some specialist OSH and public health organisations, led by Solidarity for Workers' Health, one the pioneering OSH groups in Korea, and industrial accidents victims groups and the broad public health rights movement coalition, will organise a special joint activity under the theme of "Stop Killing for Profit" on April 25. This year's "solidarity fest" is aimed at developing a momentum for "corporate accountability" campaign and "corporate murder" law. In 2003, the Solidarity for Workers' Health began the preparatory work to build a "corporate murder" campaign, beginning with a study of the campaigns and legislations undertaken in Canada, UK, and Australia and discussions among OSH activists in the trade union movement, labour lawyers, and public health rights movement specialists.