SOUTH KOREA: The AHRC strongly urges the police to allow workers on strike access to basic needs 

Ssang Yong Motor Company fired around three thousands workers. The labour union tried to negotiate this matter with the company, but both parties failed to agree. Subsequently, the workers and the labour union occupied the working place and protested against the dismissal. They also demanded that the government and the company take a genuine step to negotiate the situation. Since the occupation, which has lasted for over two months, the government decided to deploy the police force where the workers are striking under the name of prevention of crimes, but in fact, it did not intervene or play a role as an impartial arbitrator.

During this process, two workers and one family member died of mental stress from the dismissal. Another two workers who agreed to voluntarily retire committed suicide. The wife of a labour union leader committed suicide after facing threats and legal action from the company. Meanwhile, the company allegedly instigated other workers who were not dismissed to mobilise to fight against those occupants to take the company back.

Apart from the reasons of dismissal, according to the information received the company stopped providing food to the workers on strike since July 16. On July 20, the company said that the workers on strike are criminals and there is no humanitarian approach to criminals. In addition, it stopped providing water, gas for cooking and prevented medical personnel from providing treatment. The family members of the workers on strike tried to deliver basic necessities such as food, water and medicine for a patient with diabetes mellitus, but were not allowed. Human rights activists and voluntary medical personnel were also prevented entry and so could not provide for those in need of medical assistance. While they held a press conference criticising this prevention, the police arrested them for violation of the Road Traffic Act.

In addition, the police also used helicopters to indiscriminately disperse pepper spray in the location where the workers have been protesting for the last week. The workers also suffer from the absence of water. The police used tazor guns in the process of dispersal. A worker was shot in the face and left behind for three hours without proper medical treatment. According to information received, one patient with diabetes mellitus experienced complications due to the lack of medication provided. It is reported that 200 workers on strike out of around 1,000 wanted to receive medical treatment. Many workers suffered from bruises and fractured ribs.

Like other cases, the police allegedly invited so called ‘security guards’ who are hired by the company to take part in the operation of dispersal and even allowed them to use violence against the workers with their consent and acquiescence.

Under these circumstances, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) criticises the unnecessary use of force taken by the police in the process of dispersal and urges the police not to allow the security guards to use violence against the workers, which clearly is contrary to the definition of torture under the UN Convention Against Torture. As far as the workers’ health is concerned, the AHRC strongly urges the government to allow the workers access to basic needs such as food, water and medicine so that their health is no longer at risk. We finally urge not only the government, but also all political parties to take genuine steps in providing a place for mediation in order to reach an agreement.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-158-2009
Countries : South Korea,
Issues : Labour rights,