Republic of Korea

Capital: Seoul
Population: 50.42 m. (2014 est.)

Korea became a member of the ILO in 1991, however, it has not yet ratified either ILO conventions No.87 (Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise, 1948) or No.98 (Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining, 1949).

From the post-War period until as recently as the 1980s trade union rights were greatly restricted. Despite the progress made since the mid-1980s and late 1990s, union rights are still significantly restricted. At the workplace level, a ban on trade union pluralism has permitted only one union to operate in each enterprise.

Strikes are prohibited in government agencies, state run enterprises and the defence industry and compulsory arbitration may be imposed (although this is not common) in a wide range of industries deemed to be in the ‘essential public interest’, including public transport, utilities, public health, banking and telecommunications. While industrial conflict is not widespread, it not infrequently takes a violent turn with heavy police intervention and with arrest and imprisonment of strikers. Many trade unionists have been arrested, tried and even imprisoned for their involvement in strikes and demonstrations. Trade unions have been hit with massive civil law suits seeking compensation following strike action.

For decades militant trade unions were outright banned. Even following the relative liberalisation of the 1980s and 1990s and the legalisation of the KCTU, these unions have faced repression. Unions organising in sectors considered politically sensitive, namely education and the civil service, have faced even greater restrictions. The politically moderate Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU, Nochong) and the militant, left-wing Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU, Minju Nochong) are both affiliated to the ITUC.

Full details of the country's political history, the development of trade unionism, and contact and affiliation details for all national trade union centres can be found in ICTUR's in-depth global reference book: Trade Unions of the World.

Link to reportFull country profile: South Korea from Trade Unions of the World (2016)

Link to letterIntervention letter: arrest of trade union leadership (2018)

Link to reportICTUR / ITUC joint submission to United Nations' Universal Periodic Review (2017)

Link to reportIUR journal, full edition: Focus on South Korea (2015)

The International Centre for Trade Union Rights

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based in London, promoting international trade
union rights through research and advocacy services.
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