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Korean Government Calls for Greater Union Transparency Amid Increasing Worker Strikes

The Korean labour movement has ended 2022 with an array of high-profile activities. In early December, the government stepped in with unprecedented ‘Return Work’ orders to break the ongoing trucking strike. Truck drivers voted to end the action as support waned amongst the Korean public and business community, while the government claimed an ‘astronomical’ negative impact on the Korean economy.

However, cold weather did not stop an ongoing hunger strike by leaders of the Korean Metal Workers Union and associated rally by the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) in front of the Assembly in late December.  The more militant unions are calling for changes to the labour laws to expand coverage to subcontracted employees and remove the right for damages claims against unions resulting from strike action.

Continued labour reform is high on President Yoon’s agenda.  He has called for greater transparency in the financial records of the union movement, with claims that union corruption and self-interest have impacted the true representation of ‘weaker’ workers.  With the KCTU receiving around US$135 Million dollars in union dues per annum, the government is demanding greater transparency of union financial records.  A first review of many unions will take place in January to confirm adherence to the labour laws.    

Outlook for employers: President Yoon has committed to ongoing labour reforms in Korea, a country with a long record of difficult industrial relations.  His promise to enforce the labour laws and demand financial transparency is likely to provoke the union movement to further disruption in the coming year. 

Published on: January 9, 2023

Authors: Michelle Swinden

Topics: China, Japan & Asia-Pacific

Michelle Swinden

Executive Director, Asia-Pacific, HR Policy Global

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