The largest umbrella labor group in South Korea is sticking to its plans to launch a general strike and nationwide rallies Wednesday, despite warnings from authorities about the COVID-19 situation.
The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions said Tuesday that the one-day walkout will go ahead as previously announced, and striking members will take to the streets in small groups throughout the country.
In the capital, rallies of nine people or fewer at various locations are planned in accordance with the Seoul city government’s restrictions, it said, pledging to strictly follow the virus control rules imposed by the government.
Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun called on the group to cancel its plans.
“I strongly ask the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions to reconsider its decision to push forward with its walkout plan,” Chung said in a Facebook post Tuesday, adding that Korea is essentially dealing with a “national disaster.”
“Labor rights must be respected, but people’s lives and safety are the most important thing right now.”
Chung directed the police and regional governments to “use all of their administrative power” to respond to any act that could hamper Korea’s efforts to fight the new wave of COVID-19 that has put many regions and major cities on alert.
Health officials warned that a third wave of infections is already underway, as a growing number of cases are being tied to private gatherings. Korea has reported triple-digit numbers of new cases every day since Nov. 8, with the figure hovering around 300 in recent days.
Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency Chief Jang Ha-yeon said police will deal strictly with the KCTU rallies and enforce the city government’s guidelines.
Wednesday’s strike, if realized, will be the first by the KCTU this year, following two last year. The group says it needs to voice its opposition to the government’s plan to revise the Trade Union Act.
The primary aim of the bill in question is to expand workers’ rights to join or form unions to meet the standards required under core conventions of the International Labor Organization. Among other aims, it would allow unemployed or dismissed workers to be union members.
But the labor group objects to a clause, introduced at the request of local employers, that forbids striking workers from occupying key facilities at the workplace.
The KCTU calls the bill anti-labor, and demands that the ILO conventions be ratified without the employer-friendly clause. It also demands measures to financially support workers whose jobs have disappeared or whose wages have dwindled during the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic.
It is as yet unclear how many KCTU members will participate in the nationwide rally Wednesday.
By Ko Jun-tae (email@example.com