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The Peninsula

A Growing Workers’ Coalition

Published November 23, 2021
Author: Korea View

What Happened

  • Civil Servants joined the nationwide walkout organized by the umbrella union Korean Confederation of Trade Unions on October 20.
  • Civil servants are currently demanding fixed lunch breaks.
  • This follows the death of a civil servant, allegedly due to overwork and bullying.

Implications: Workers in Korea are increasingly forming coalitions across sectors and vocations. In contrast to past efforts to expand workers’ rights, the ongoing movement suggests that this activism is not limited to a single workplace. The most recent wave of labor demonstrations saw government workers joining strikes involving workers from other industries. This is unusual because Korean unions are specific to location or vocation, often restricting protests to one enterprise. This idiosyncratic feature has long dulled the leverage of unions in Korea. But recent developments suggest this might be changing.

Context: According to the OECD, Korea ranks third highest among member countries for both longest annual working hours and workplace fatalities. Recent incidents involving tech companies asking employees not to log their overtime hours to bypass the government’s 52-hour workweek mandate suggests that the real figures may actually be higher. While overwork is particularly acute for irregular and gig workers, full-time employees in both public and private sectors are clearly not immune.

This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Janet Hong, Yubin Huh, and Mai Anna Pressley. Picture from the flickr account of Minseong Kim

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