Disclaimer: The following is a totally unauthoritative personal translation of an article appeared in <Hankook Ilbo> on Aug. 20, 2013, reporting a 200-day long high place protest, a recent unfortunate development of over 2,000 days of workers’ rights struggle, by union workers of <JEI Corporation>, a company for home schooling and self-studying in Korea and other countries. All rights regarding this post stay with the author(s) of the original article or with <Hankook Ilbo> and this post will be scrapped immediately at their request. In the post, I tried to match the English translation of names of people / institution(s) / position(s) to authentic one(s) as much as possible but, unfortunately, some of them still can be different. Original article of this post (in Korean) can be found in the link at the bottom.
August 24th will mark 200 days of high place protest by JEI Corporation workers.
“Fight for workers’ rights … won’t end until we get what we demand.”
Union’s fight for reinstatement and collective agreement has been going on over 2,070 days.
by Aram Ahn firstname.lastname@example.org
“We hope we may get down before this Chuseok (holiday) but we will not rush the whole thing. We will go all the way down. We may have to do the same fight again later unless we seal the whole thing up tight this time. We’ve already put up with this scorching hot summer ….”
Under the late summer blaring sunlight, Ms. Soo-young Oh (39), acting head of National Education Workers’ Union JEI Corporation branch, expressed her resolution at the top of bell tower of Catholic church in Hyehwa-dong Jongno-gu, Seoul, on August 20th afternoon. Ms. Oh, accompanied by her union member Ms. Min-hee Yeo (40), has been staging a high place protest at the top of 15m high bell tower since February 6th demanding reinstatement of 12 laid-off union workers and restoration of collective agreement between union and company.
Coming August 24th will mark 200 days of their off the ground ordeal. Recollecting the day they first climbed the bell tower, Ms. Oh said “It was a really harsh day. Temperature was freezing -17 C and wind was blowing like piercing razors. Now we notice change of seasons and flow of time by the change of colors in Bukhan-san (Mt), Inwang-san (Mt), Nam-san (Mt) or the sky. Though the oriental medicine doctor who visits them and checks their medical condition every week tipped her of possible inflammation at kidney and need for thorough medical checkup, she told us she did not have any intention of getting down to the ground unless union’s demands like reinstatement of laid-off workers including the late Ms. Jee-hyun Lee who had died of cancer during the struggle were accepted.
To them, the fact that they are getting used to the lives of narrow rooftop (the top of bell tower is about 7 square meters) up there is rather terrifying. Ms. Yeo set out that “it makes me sad and heartbroken that I am getting used to live in a lone place, live away from all usual everyday life.” Ms. Oh swallowed her tears while talking about her son (9). Since she climbed the bell tower, her son experienced difficulty in controlling his temper and was very easily agitated. She said “it’s really disheartening but the idea that I will get down there after winning this fight and be a better mom makes me stay on.”
On August 20th, The Korean Confederation of Trades Union (KCTU) and JEI Corporation union held a joint press conference in front of JEI Corporation headquarter building in Hyehwa-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul, and said “We implore social solidarity to restore collective agreement and to let those two female union members who are fighting on top of the bare bell tower without safety handrail get down to the ground as soon as possible.”
Ms. Oh said “We are not fighting simply to get reinstated but people often look at us with eyes of dispensation and pity. It’s quite embarrassing.” and added “It’s a fight to ensure workers’ rights that even laws such as Labor Law and Labor Standards Act cannot protect. We will fight to the end.”
JEI Corporation union’s struggle that started as a street protest in December 2007 has been going on for 2,070 days by August 20th. Since May of last year, company and union have been on the negotiation table over 20 times but could not strike a deal yet. The whole incident started when JEI Corporation company broke previous collective agreement with union on the wage and collective agreement negotiating table arguing that “Home-study teachers are specially hired employees and are not subject to rights to form a labor union” in 2007. Seoul Administrative Court, however, ruled “JEI Corporation home-study teachers are qualified as workers with full rights under the Labor Union Act” in November last year. Based on this, union is demanding the reinstatement of all 12 workers who were laid-off during the union-recognition struggle and restoration of previous collective agreement. To the contrary, the company insists that it will accept the reinstatement of only 11 workers (excluding the late Ms. Ji-hyun Lee) but that collective agreement should be renegotiated after union members’ comeback.