| The progressive Korean Teachers & Education Workers` Union says Wednesday that it will go on a strike by taking annual leaves en masse on October 18 and 19, rejecting the government`s order to revise the union regulation that acknowledges as its member teachers who have been dismissed.
At a debate hosted by a journalists` club in downtown Seoul, Kim Jung-hoon, the union`s head, claimed Wednesday that the government`s "oppression" of the union is an "act of negating the basic labor rights guaranteed by the constitution." He said that the teachers` union would risk becoming an "outside labor union" if the government fails to withdraw the order.
Under the current law governing labor unions, a union that accepts "those who are not workers" as its members is not recognized as a labor union. In 2010 and 2012, the previous administration ordered the teachers` union to revise its regulations but failed to take any action when the union failed to do so. On Monday, the Park Geun-hye administration sent the union an ultimatum that if it fails to revise its regulations by October 23, the government will no longer consider it as a labor union under the enforcement decree of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Adjustment Act.
The teachers` union strongly protests the government`s ultimatum, claiming that it is highly likely to be "unconstitutional" to cancel a legally established labor union with just an enforcement decree of the law and that the government is "annihilating democracy." Late last year, however, the Supreme Court rejected a lawsuit filed in 2010 by the union against the government`s order. The union is applying double standards by taking advantage of the law when the law is in its favor but ignoring the law when the situation is against it.
It is also controversial whether the union`s "annual leave struggle" is legal. While the union argues that it is legal for teachers to take annual leaves en masse on regular weekdays, such acts encroach upon students` right to learn. Although the union`s leadership has uplifted the banner of annual leave struggle, it is uncertain whether teachers will actually take leaves to reveal their "identity" as the union members. When a ruling party lawmaker posted the members` names on his Internet homepage in 2010, the union stopped him from doing so, claiming that he was disclosing other people`s private information.
The government should be stern against the union that makes it a practice to walk out while taking students hostages. If the union fails to revise its regulation by October 22, the government should take an action in accordance with the law. If the union were to become an outside union, it could no longer bargain collectively with the government and local education offices, which it has continued since it became a legal union in 1999. Without the legal umbrella, the teachers` union would no longer be able to exert its influence on the government`s education policies.