Monday, July 14, 2008

Solidarity Appeal to Support the Branch of the Pohang Construction Plant Workers Union, KFCITU [kctupower]

Background


From July 1 to September 20, 2006 over 4,000 members of the Pohang Construction Plant Workers Local Union, an affiliate of the Korean Federation of Construction Industry Trade Union went on strike. Their demands were a 15% increase in wages, implementation of a five-day work week, safe and healthy working conditions, and dignity and respect at the work site. Although the union members were hired by subcontractors, they worked at the construction plants operated by POSCO, a major steel production company in South Korea. Thus, POSCO had a direct influence over the sub contractors as they controlled the conditions and the ultimate approval of all contracts with these subcontractors.

During the strike the union engaged in several industrial actions, the most public was the sit-down demonstration conducted by 3,000 union members at POSCO headquarters in Pohang for nine days starting July 1st. In an effort to support the workers who were holed up inside POSCO headquarters and surrounded by more than 10,000 riot police, local unions affiliated with the KFCITU conducted rallies that were brutally suppressed by the riot police.

In the end, the workers peacefully concluded the sit-down demonstration and the strike came to an end when over 67% of the membership agreed to accept the agreement. It should be noted that the agreement the union had signed in September, 2006 specifically contained language that would ensure that union members would be not be barred from work in POSCO facilities even though they were hired by subcontractors. Nevertheless, at the time both the sub contractors association and POSCO had stated that at least 25 union members including the key leadership would be barred from working at POSCO.



Members of Pohang Construction Plant Workers Union Still in Jail


The strike would come at high costs to the local union, as it resulted in the arrest of close to 100 union members. Currently eight are still in jail having been sentenced to two and a half years to three and a half years for their leading role in the sit-down demonstration and strike. With the exception of Lee Ji Kyung, former President of the local union, all are expected to be released later this month. In addition, close to 200 members were injured in the various industrial actions that took place during the strike and as a result many were hospitalized. However, the most tragic result of the strike is the tragic death of Ha Joong Keun.



Ha Joong Keun, who was brutally beaten on the head by several riot police during a demonstration on July 17 in front of POSCO headquarters, while his colleagues were conducting a sit-down demonstration inside POSCO headquarters died on August 1 due to his injuries. Even though nearly two years have passed since his death the government has still failed to take full official responsibility for his death. The union’s calls for an impartial government investigation have yet to materialize.



Relationship between Sub Contractors and POSCO


The members of the Branch of Pohang Construction Plant Workers Union are categorized as subcontract and irregular (non-permanent) workers. Since regular (permanent) workers are hired directly by the company they are guaranteed three basic labor rights---the right to organize, the right to strike, and the right to bargain. On the other hand, sub contract workers must negotiate with the sub contractors as they are hired by them but in reality the real power in terms of determining wages, working conditions, and work hours lies with the user company, the principal contractor, in this case POSCO.

In many cases user companies have terminated contracts with sub contracts once the workers organize and form a union. Because of this, many sub contract companies refuse to negotiate with the union. Furthermore, both the user company and the sub contract company shift the blame between each other in refusing to recognize and negotiate the union.


POSCO Repression of the Pohang Construction Plant Workers Union


Since the 2006 strike conducted by the union, POSCO has used its political and economic clout in Pohang, where they control at least 70% of the economy to implement a deliberate and strategic plan to break the union through the following tactics:



1. Linking employment with Union Disaffiliation


 Workers who are members of the Branch of Pohang Construction Plant Workers Union are refused employment and are barred from working on POSCO facilities until they disaffiliate from the union.
 In order for union members to work in POSCO construction sites even though they are hired by subcontractors they must possess entrance passes issued by POSCO. However, POSCO refused to issue entrance passes to union members. This is in violation of South Korean labour laws.
 POSCO exercises preference over subcontractors that refuse employment to members of the Branch of the Pohang Construction Plant Workers Union.



2. Rejection of the Collective Bargaining Agreement


 A collective bargaining agreement is a promise between the trade union and the employer that was agreed upon in good faith bargaining. Even though the POSCO was not the party to the agreement between the Branch of Pohang Construction Plant Workers Union, they have a strong influence in the implementation of the CBA through their role as the principal contractor.
 After the 2006 strike, POSCO filed a civil lawsuit against the union seeking compensatory damage of one million and eight thousand US dollars.
 POSCO auctioned off a tract of land acquired for the construction of a building for the labour union. Thus, POSCO is using financial tactics to break the union.



3. Union Officials are Barred from Entering POSCO Facilities


 Prior to the strike officials of the union routinely visited POSCO operated construction sites to address the needs and concerns of union member; however, they are now limited access to the site to twice a week. This clearly restricts and interferes with the union’s ability to conducting trade union activities.
 Since the union officials and staff have limited access to the construction site, there is also less scrutiny or questions raised on occupational safety and health standards resulting in a greater increase in the number of work-related accidents.



WHAT YOU CAN DO



1. Please send your letters (a sample letter is enclosed) to Mr. Ku Taek Lee, Chairman and CEO
POSCO, 89-2 POSCO Center, Kangnam-gu, Dae Chi Dong, Seoul, Korea, Via fax : +82-2-3457-6000

2. You can also send your protest comments (see a sample below) on the POSCO website at www.posco.com

3. Please send copies of letters (sample letter is below) to the KFCITU headquarters at 82-2-843-1436 (Fax) or e-mail it to kfcitu@hanmail.net





SAMPLE LETTER




Mr. Ku Taek Lee
Chairman and CEO
POSCO
89-2 POSCO Center
Kangnam-gu, Dae Chi Dong
Seoul, Korea
Via fax: +82-2-3457-6000




Dear Chairman Lee



On behalf of the ____, I am writing to express our outrage at your repression against the Branch of the Pohang Construction Plant Workers Union affiliated to the Korean Federation of Construction Industry Trade Unions.

In July 1, 2006 the union had engaged in a strike that was amicably resolved through a collective bargaining agreement between the union and the subcontractors association on September 20, 2006. As you know this agreement included language that specifically stated trade union members would not be discriminated or barred from working in POSCO facilities. However, it is our understanding that your company has been using your strong influence as a principal contractor to link union membership with employment. Union members have been denied identification passes to POSCO facilities and we have been told that you have asked union members to disaffiliate to remain employed or be employed. This is a violation of South Korean Industrial Labour Laws 81.



More importantly, I would like to point out this is violation of the ILO Convention 87---Freedom of Association. This also goes against POSCO’s policy of Codes of Conduct which you adopted in June 2003. According to your company’s Code of Conduct, the goal of POSCO is to “implement corporate ethics that meet internationally accepted standards thus making another bold step toward becoming a globally respected and trusted company.” In both the UN Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, there are specific articles pertaining to the right to organize, the right to join a union, and the right to strike. Even though the members of the Branch of Pohang Construction Plant Workers Union are not directly hired by POSCO, they still work in a POSCO work site and thus the international conventions comply.



POSCO is internationally recognized for being a major global company. Your company prides itself in having a vision that ensures ethical and social responsibilities. We would like to point out that a major social responsibility of your company should be the workers who work at your facilities regardless of how they are employed because as a principal contractor you have major responsibilities regarding the working conditions particularly around the issues of health and safety. Since your company has deliberately restricted the access of union officials and organizers to address issues of their members, we have been told there is a lack of adherence to safety and health regulations resulting an increase of work-related accidents at POSCO construction sites. This is unacceptable and worrisome for us because workers safety should come first before any form of profit.

We urge you to immediately stop repressing the Branch of the Pohang Construction Plant Workers Union by immediately stopping all anti-union campaign against the union. Be a positive corporate leader by respecting trade union rights for all workers in your work sites. In doing this your company will be truly a leader in the international business community.



Sincerely,



Your Union President


E-mail Sample Comment


I am writing to express our outrage at your repression against the Branch of the Pohang Construction Plant Workers Union affiliated to the Korean Federation of Construction Industry Trade Unions.


It is my understanding that POSCO has utilized its influence as a principal contractor to link union membership with employment. Union members have been denied identification passes to POSCO facilities and we have been told that you have asked union members to disaffiliate to remain employed or be employed. This is a violation of South Korean Industrial Labour Laws 81. This also goes against your company’s policy of Codes of Conduct which you adopted in June 2003. According to your company’s Code of Conduct, the goal of POSCO is to “implement corporate ethics that meet internationally accepted standards thus making another bold step toward becoming a globally respected and trusted company.” In both the UN Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, there are specific articles pertaining to the right to organize, the right to join a union, and the right to strike. Even though the members of the Branch of Pohang Construction Plant Workers Union are not directly hired by POSCO, they still work in a POSCO work site and thus the international conventions comply.


We urge you to immediately stop repressing the Branch of the Pohang Construction Plant Workers Union by immediately stopping all anti-union campaign against the union. Be a positive corporate leader by respecting trade union rights for all workers in your work sites. In doing this your company will be truly a leader in the international business community.





Lee Changgeun
International Executive Director
Korean Confederation of Trade Unions
Tel.: +82-2-2670-9234 Fax: +82-2-2635-1134
E-mail: inter@kctu.org Web-site : http://kctu.org
2nd Fl. Daeyoung Bld., 139 Youngdeungpo-2-ga, Youngdeungpo-ku, Seoul 150-032 Korea

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