Six union activists representing Korean workers have been jailed for legitimate union activities with the latest court ruling setting a 2-year jail term on Tuesday.
Sheldon joins other leaders from the International Transport Workers’ Federation meeting in Seoul this week to call for an end to the victimization of trade union activists.
“The Korean government has taken aim at working families throughout the country with regressive labour law changes. This issue is relevant to Australian workers: our Government signed a so-called free trade agreement with Korea which has done little else but allow exploitation of workers to continue across international borders. Australian transport workers stand with our brothers and sisters in Korea and urge them to keep up the fight,” he said.
Sheldon is today visiting Lee Jae-shik, a delegate from the Korean Public Service and Transport Workers’ Union-Trucksol, who was jailed in the most recent crackdown. He received an 18-month jail sentence after a peaceful strike of owner drivers who have not received a wage increase in 20 years.
“These union leaders and officials were jailed for doing their jobs: representing vulnerable workers. For truck drivers the problem is in the structure of the supply chain. At the top wealthy clients are exploiting drivers by setting low cost contracts. The Korean government needs to intervene and hold these clients to account while recognising the legitimate role of trade union representatives,” he said.
The UN body, the International Labour Organization, has recognised Korean workers’, including owner truck drivers right to form and join a trade union and collectively bargain. The ILO also recognised drivers rights to safe and fair remuneration.
The jailing of transport worker activists follows a strike by drivers at food company Pulmuone because of a low wages and appalling safety conditions. Workers tell how they are forced to pay money daily to Pulmuone to keep their contracts with the company. They tell of fainting on the jobs from fatigue. One workers said recently: “One of our members fell out of a forklift unloading boxes. They said to him ‘If you want to keep your job you better not be out for treatment for long.”
Pressure on drivers in South Korea is intense with around 1,200 dying each year in truck-related crashes. Overloading of trucks causes 38% of truck-related crashes.