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(2nd LD) Supreme Court annuls former govt's decision to outlaw progressive teachers' union

National 17:17 September 03, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS more details in last 4 paras, photo)
By Woo Jae-yeon

SEOUL, Sept. 3 (Yonhap) -- Overturning an appellate court's ruling, the Supreme Court on Thursday annulled a decision by the former Park Geun-hye government to outlaw a progressive teachers' union for accepting a handful of fired teachers as its members, opening the way for the union to regain its legal status.

The full bench of the highest court accepted by majority the appeal by the Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union (KTU) to regain its legal status, sending the case back to a lower court for retrial.

Kwon Jeong-oh, head of the Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union (KTU), celebrates with another union member after hearing a verdict at the Supreme Court in Seoul on Sept. 3, 2020. (Yonhap)
Members of the Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union (KTU) wave their hands in joy after hearing a verdict at the Supreme Court in Seoul on Sept. 3, 2020. (Yonhap)

The Supreme Court said denying dismissed teachers the rights to join in a labor union is not constitutional and against the international standard. It also said it was excessive to deprive the KTU of its legal status just because it had members who were not holding a teaching job.

Delivering the verdict, Chief Justice Kim Myeong-su said the previous rulings on the case were "not valid," and "infringed on labor's three primary rights." He also said outlawing the union was tantamount to "denying its existence."

In October 2013, the conservative Park Geun-hye government banned the union, founded in 1989, saying that having nine dismissed teachers as its members violated the law on the teachers' union that stated only incumbent teachers were recognized as union members.

Kwon Jeong-oh (L), head of the Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union (KTU) shakes hands with a union member outside the Supreme Court on Sept. 3, 2020. (Yonhap)

But the KTU argued that having the nine non-teachers in the union did not compromise its autonomy in collective action and bargaining power, and that the government's outlawing it was an excessive interpretation of the law.

Since then, the KTU, one of the country's biggest teachers' unions with some 60,000 members, has been engaged in a series of legal disputes with the government.

While a district court and an appellate court sided with the government, the KTU has repeatedly asked for a court injunction to suspend the decision. Depending on different court rulings, it alternated between being legal and illegal for three years.

The union appealed to the Supreme Court in February 2016, and the case had been pending since then. At that time, it also requested a court injunction to suspend the annulment.

While the full bench of the highest court accepted the appeal by the KTU on Thursday, it dismissed its request to issue an injunction in a separate ruling, leaving the matter to be resolved in retrial.

Later in the day, the Ministry of Employment and Labor said it will start a process to cancel the annulment "as soon as possible," in line with the highest court's decision.

The labor minister has the authority to restore the union's legal status, even before a ruling in a retrial comes out.

When it happens, the KTU can exercise its rights to collective bargaining, to calling for the government's mediation in labor disputes and to reporting unfair labor practices.

"The victory was only possible because of people who have strenuously supported the union," the KTU said, "We promise to return the support by teaching (children) sincerely."

Supreme Court Justices are seated at the court before giving a verdict on Sept. 3, 2020. (Yonhap)


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