Korean three-year struggle against precariousness

Female precarious workers at Kiryung Electronics Satellite Radio plant in Seoul enter their 1,100th day of struggle.

Submitted by Django on August 27, 2008

Female precarious workers for the Korean firm Kiryung electronics today enter their 1,100th day of action in demand of direct employment.

Workers are fighting to be employed directly by the firm, not by the outsourcing company, as is common in Korea. Not being on the company payroll, they are classed as affiliate workers from an associated firm. Upgrading their position would force the firm to be directly accountable for their rights and working conditions. Such practices are used to circumvent labour laws, with varying degrees of severity. Kim So-Yeun, head of the Kiryun electronics union, described the use of the loopholes at the plant in Seoul to the Korea Times: ``If you want to talk about problems with your boss, you'll hear `We don't need you' and 'You are fired.' After overtime and overnight work, you will get a text message saying `You're fired.' We simply wanted to change these inhuman practices ... You cannot easily understand the feeling of being treated like a disposable item. It's so miserable and painful. It's hard to describe that feeling.''

The subcontracted workers were hired alongside full-time staff, and paid a penny above the minimum wage for working weeks 60-70 hours long. Precarious workers at the plant went on the offensive in 2005 and took the company to court, which led to a ruling finding Kiryung guilty of illegal employment practices. Emboldened by the court's decision, they formed a local of the Korean Metalworkers Union, and following company spying all 200 members were promptly sacked.

This didnt prove to be the end of the struggle, as the workers set up camp outside the plant and began a campaign of sit-ins. Subsequently, the company opened negotiations, leading to the president of the company offering full employment after a years training in the June of this year. This offer was immediately vetoed by management, and withdrawn.

With the company claiming that it will not rehire the workers, and will relocate the plant to China to exploit a cheaper and more easily exploitable workforce, the union stepped up its campaign, with the reps, including Kim So-Yeun, beginning a hunger strike campaign. An arbitration offer by the ruling Grand National Party at the end of July to have the workers rehired by another outsourcing company, effectively landing them back at square one, was rejected. Kim So-Yeun and Yoo Heung-hee were both admitted to hospital on August 16th, following 67 days of hunger strike.

The local vows to continue its campaign, and following in the wake of the wider political conflicts following the liberalisation of trade laws, the Korea Confederation of Trade Unions and opposition Democratic Labor Party have offered their support. What the union bureaucracy and bourgeois parties have to offer the militant ranks and file remains to be seen, but the liberal press is backing calls for "resolution", and "serious dialogue" about whether precarity is really necessary - and "civil society" groups have promptly stepped in to mediate their struggle.