|Members of the Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union rally at Gwanghwamun Square, Seoul, Wednesday, calling on the Moon Jae-in administration to restore legal status to the currently outlawed union. / Korea Times photo by Hong In-ki|
By Lee Suh-yoon
Hundreds of teachers rallied at Gwanghwamun Square, Wednesday, calling on President Moon Jae-in to keep his campaign promise to legalize a progressive teachers' union that was outlawed by the former Park Geun-hye administration in 2013.
"The government born from the candlelight revolution must show the people it has the will to get rid of the corruption and accumulated ills from former administrations ― a prime example being the outlawing of the teachers' union," Jung Hyun-jin, a spokesperson for the Korea Teachers and Education Worker's Union (KTU), told The Korea Times. "It's been seven years, how much longer should we wait?"
The KTU was outlawed by the conservative Park administration in October 2013, because nine out of some 60,000 union members had been dismissed by their schools and were not holding a teaching post at the time.
According to the law on teachers' unions, only incumbent teachers and school workers are recognized as union members. The KTU has been tied up in litigation since it was first outlawed in 2013 and has changed status between legal and illegal according to different court rulings six times in the past six years. It appealed against a ruling in favor of the government in February 2016, and the case is pending at the Supreme Court.
Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, the union says Moon has the power to annul the decision to outlaw the union, because the outlawing was an improper administrative decision and the President can change it.
With three years left in office, President Moon has tossed the ball to the legislative and judicial branch, saying the problem must be solved with the Supreme Court ruling or by changing a relevant law.
The union says Moon's stance is "irresponsible," especially considering the fact the administration is preparing to ratify key ILO conventions, which will, if ratified, allow dismissed workers to join a labor union.
But the Moon administration says, to ratify the key conventions, relevant domestic laws need to be revised first, calling on the National Assembly to do so.
"It's very disappointing," Jung said. "If the Moon administration truly has the will to ratify the ILO conventions, it needs to first carry out the measures it has the power to deliver."
Wednesday's rally was faced off by conservative parents' associations that condemned the union members for "rallying in the streets instead of teaching students."
The participating union members, who used their annual leave to attend the rally, responded to the criticism by saying they arranged for substitute teachers beforehand.
Previously under conservative administrations, the government threatened to take disciplinary action against unionized teachers who took part in protests by taking leave. In 2016, 34 teachers who were leaders in the union were fired as their schools did not recognize leaves of absence for an outlawed union.
But the education ministry under the Moon administration said their participation would be fine as long as substitute teachers were placed.
The parents' groups said the ministry's stance is dereliction of duty, saying they would file a complaint against Education Minister Yoo Eun-hae.