In the Shadow of ‘Damage Suits’ with Astronomical Figures

기사입력 2014.04.15 17:20
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For the workers who participated in strikes in Korea, are the three basic labor rights just nominal?
Since companies started to claim damages in a massive scale against union members involved in strikes, the total claimed amount alone has already hit 100 billion won.

Article 33, Section 1 of the Constitution of the Republic of Korea states, “For the improvement of working conditions, workers have independently the right to organize, the right to bargain collectively, and the right to collective actions.”  According to Article 3 of the Labor Union and Labor Relations Adjustment Act, “In case a company suffers a loss caused by the collective bargaining or the act of dispute under this law, the company shall not claim for damages against the labor union or workers.”

   ©Beautiful Fund

However, even though there is existing provision to guarantee rightful activities of the union while defending the three basic labor rights from the company’s pressure to demand for damage compensation, the court has been pouring out judgments that workers who having participated in strikes should compensate the company for the loss of billions of won.

Furthermore, the court’s ruling is not limited to the labor union. Recently as many cases hold even individual union members legally responsible for the loss, no one might be able to imagine how hard the sufferings, related to the damage lawsuit, they are undergoing in everyday life are.

The spread of company’s provisional attachments for damages has started since the multiple trade unions system became effective. Some say the provisional attachment for damages is being used as a method of destroying labor unions. They say that is a means to form a company-hired labor union in favor of the company and incapacitate the militant labor union.

According to the Korea Confederation of Trade Union (KCTU), the amount of claims for damages or provisional attachments against labor unions has reached 112.8 billion won in January last year:  actions for damages are being brought against the Korean Metal Workers Union (KMWU) for 70.5 billion won; the public transport workers’ union for 22.7 billion won; the media union for 19.5 billion won; the KCTU for 130,000,000 won; and provisional attachments of 16.8 billion won.

In details, 2,648,000,000 won has been claimed against 32 participants in the Valeo Mando strikes, 268,210,152 won against cleaning workers of Hongik University, 16.2 billion won against the railroad union (11.6 billion won of provisional attachment was filed additionally) and 15.8 billion won against the labor union of Hanjin Heavy Industries.

The KEC initially filed a damage suit for 30.1 billion won against 88 KEC labor leaders and members who went on strike only for 14 days, but later the company has lowered the amount to 15.6 billion won and is carrying out the trial now. A damage suit for 20 billion won claimed by Hyundai Motor Co., in connection with the strikes in 2010, is currently proceeding.

Especially, last year the court ruled that 140 members of the SsangYong Motor labor union including 26 reinstated employees and 15 hopeful-of-retirement employees should compensate the company and the police with 4.7 billion won. Woochang Maritime Affairs, a construction company of the Jeju Navy Base, has recently filed a damage suit for as much as 101,000,000 won against 6 persons including Gangjeong village residents and social activists who have been developing the campaign against constructing the naval base.  

As a result, workers’ wages, severance packages, real estates, cars and bankbooks etc. – their whole fortune is as good as seized provisionally.  In 2003, Bae Dal-ho from Doosan Heavy Industries and Joo-ik Kim from Hanjin Heavy Industries described in their suicide notes their sufferings caused by the provisional attachment for damages and then killed themselves.

‘Yellow Envelope’ for making a united effort to help a person: a social organization ‘Hand in Hand’ has been founded

While damage suits against workers are continuously being seen here and there in the society, the 4.7 billion won of burden an SsangYong Motor dismissed worker took up has showed flickers of hope by the help of a housewife. And this occasion served as a catalyst of boosting public interest in the social organization ‘Hand in Hand’

Chun-hwan Bae, 39, a mother of two kids, donated 47,000 won, her first son’s tuition fee for a Taekwondo institute, in a yellow envelope with a letter enclosed. Concerning the motive for her participation, Bae said, “Considering I am going to give birth to my third baby in this country where 4.7 billion won of money was claimed against a dismissed worker, I felt suffocated. So, I wanted to start something small but affordable for me. That’s why I donated.”

Top singer Hyo-ri Lee came to know Bae’s story and decided to participate herself in the ‘Yellow Envelope Campaign’, a drive to raise fund for helping workers who are suffering from damage suits against them, and her participation has created a great sensation in the society. In point of the fact that ‘a yellow envelope’ used to mean ‘a pay envelope’, but sometimes, ‘dismissal notice’, the campaign took the name.

The Yellow Envelope Campaign was launched by the Beautiful Foundation on February 10, but the amount of the raised fund was less than 10,000,000 won until a week later. Then, singer Hyo-ri Lee’s participation galvanized people into the campaign, and the first and second targeted collections of 470,000,000 won were achieved respectively. The third fund-raising campaign is underway now until April 30. So far, more than 23,000 people participated in the campaign and the raised fund amounts to 1.26 billion won.

On March 26, a social organization ‘Hand in Hand’ (meaning to gather efforts hand in hand to control the provisional attachment for damages) was launched to the effect of securing the three basic labor rights and handling the issue on provisional attachment for damage.

‘Hand in Hand’ was jointly proposed and is participated in by Prof. Gook Cho of Seoul National University, Prof. Hong-gu Han of Sungkonghoe University, economist Seok-hun Woo, CEO Jae-myung Shim of Myung Film, Director Yeong-joo Byeon, cartoonist Pool Gang, novelist Ji-young Gong and lawyer Yeong-guk Kwon.

The fund raised through the Yellow Envelope Campaign will be used to support the workers and their families who are at a crisis caused by the judgment against them. ‘Hand in Hand’ plans to organize a deliberating council of the KCYU members and labor union jurists to deliberate on selecting beneficiaries of the fund.

In addition to this fund raising campaign, ‘Hand in Hand’ will make efforts through multiple activities, such as a campaign for the improvement of unreasonable legal system, a mock court and film production, to improve unreasonable treatments on workers.

Meanwhile, in the National Assembly in July 2012, the opposition Justice Party lawmaker Shim Sang-jeong proposed a revised bill for Trade Union Act. The key point of the revised bill is that a claim for damages shall be limited to the damage caused by violence or an act of destruction.
[HyoJin Cha, Reporter 기자]
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