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Long Struggle Brings Victory to Korean Country Club Workers

Posted to the IUF website 22-Apr-2005

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Korea's golf courses, which employ some 20,000 mostly women caddies, have been the scene of major battles for trade union rights. In 2003, the IUF gave international support to the tough but successful struggle by the Korean Women's Trade Union to renew their collective agreement with the government-owned 88 Country Club. On April 16, members of the IUF-affiliated Korean Federation of Private Service Workers' Unions (KFSU) concluded an agreement with the privately owned Hanwon Country Club which put an end to 283 days of intense struggle.

The conflict began last year when the employer unilaterally tried to transfer 41 women caddies' jobs to a subcontractor, in explicit violation of the existing CBA (for all Hanwon Country Club workers) which obliges the company to negotiate the introduction of irregular employment. The union resisted the employer plan, prompting the manager to unleash violent attacks by company thugs against the workers and a riot police assault on a peaceful union march on August 21, following which the company sued individual employees for compensation because the police had trampled the golf course greens.

Despite the violence, the detention and jailing of union leaders, the dismissal of 37 caddies and the dismissal or suspension of a number of permanent country club employees, the union refused to submit. The union fought back with a 39-day sit-in in front of the Hanwon corporate headquarters in Seoul, a hunger strike, and an occupation of the Hanwon Country Club on April 15 with the participation of 500 members of other unions who pitched tents to continuously monitor the negotiations which the manager had finally agreed to begin.

500 supporters from other unions showed solidarity with the Hanwon Country club workers by pitching tents and participating in the occupation while negotiations took place. The flags are those of the regional KCTU (national center) and metalworker organizations. Stopping and reversing the trend towards casualization is a key objective of the Korean labour movement.

The IUF sent messages of support for the union to the government and the employer, and the IUF Executive Committee, meeting in Geneva on April 13-14, expressed the full support of the IUF membership for the Hanwon workers' struggle.

On the early morning of April 16, the union reached an agreement with the management of the club which included: a management commitment that it will not force union members to leave the company nor change their employment status without prior agreement; full reinstatement of all dismissed workers; and financial compensation for unfairly dismissed employees. The charges against the union are to be dropped and the company will pay workers' hospital and medical costs incurred as a result of company-instigated violence.

At the IUF Executive Committee meeting, full support was also expressed for the KFSU's protracted struggle for trade union rights at the Yuseong Hotel Rivera.