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Appeals court upholds stripping teachers’ union of legal status

The Seoul High Court on Tuesday ruled in favor of the government’s decision to strip the Korea Teachers and Education Workers’ Union of its legal status, dealing it yet another blow in its two-year legal fight.

The left-leaning group has been engaged in a bitter battle with the Labor Ministry since October 2013, when it was no longer deemed a legal entity. The ministry cited a violation of a labor law clause that bans dismissed education workers from joining trade unions.

According to the Education Ministry, this is to ensure that teachers remain politically neutral.

Citing the labor law clause, the appellate court said that the ministry’s move against the KTU was a lawful administrative procedure.

“Prior to the ministry’s notification, the KTU had decided to reject the government’s request for it to not accept dismissed workers via a member vote, which clearly shows that the KTU is not recognized as a trade union by the labor law,” the court said in its ruling, upholding a decision by the lower court on June 2014. “On the plaintiff’s appeal that the labor law clause is unconstitutional, the Constitutional Court has already ruled that it does not infringe upon the basic rights. ... Therefore, the court declines the plaintiff’s claim,”

The lower court said that given the characteristics of education workers, the legislators are entitled to enforce stricter rules on them.

KTU leader Byeon Seong-ho denounced the ruling and said that it showed that Korean Democracy had “taken a step back,” adding that the decision “falls short of international standards.” He said that the KTU will appeal the case to the Supreme Court. 

Song Jae-hyuk, the group’s spokesman, said as the court had already imposed fines for accepting dismissed teachers as members, Thursday’s decision was “redundant and excessive.”

The Supreme Court last Thursday levied a fine of 1 million won fine ($825) on both the KTU and Rep. Jeong Jin-hoo of the Justice Party -- the former leader of the group.

“International standards and common sense both say that the KTU should be granted legal status,” said Song.

International Trade Union Confederation and Education International had requested a permanent injunction against the Labor Ministry’s decision to delist the KTU.

Without its legal status, the KTU lacks the right to have full-time workers, collect membership fees, receive government support and negotiate on behalf of its members with other parties.
The office of Korea Teachers and Education Workers’ Union in Seoul. Yonhap
The office of Korea Teachers and Education Workers’ Union in Seoul. Yonhap

The Education Ministry said that it would immediately conduct follow-up measures, including withdrawal of all its benefits.

Song said the group will contemplate future plans based on the government’s reaction to Thursday’s ruling, but said a legal challenge would no longer be its main method of operation.

“After consulting with legal representatives at the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, we have found that we can still negotiate on behalf of our members. It just lacks legal binding power. But several education offices have said that they will accept the KTU as partners,” he said.

By Yoon Min-sik (