Koreans strike blow for workers' rights

In a sudden and uncharacteristic submission to popular pressure, the South Korean President, Kim Young Sam, agreed yesterday to reconsider controversial labour laws which have provoked a month of nationwide strikes.

During a meeting at the presidential Blue House, Mr Kim told opposition leaders that the National Assembly would be allowed to rewrite the laws, which postpone the right of workers to form free trade unions, and make it easier for companies to lay them off.

Also subject to revision will be amendments to the national security law giving new powers to the Korean intelligence agency.

The President promised that trade union leaders, who are wanted by police for organising the strikes, will not be seized from their sanctuary in Seoul's Roman Catholic cathedral.

Kim Dae Jung, head of the chief opposition party, the National Council for New Politics, said: "Today's meeting was not a total solution but there was some advance. President Kim Young Sam showed an attitude of wanting to solve the problems together with opposition parties."

The announcement represents an unexpected U-turn for the government, which appeared to have been gaining the upper hand in the month-long dispute.

After a patchy response to a general strike call last week, the leaders of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) announced last Saturday that they would limit their action to one day a week, with an all-out strike planned for next month if the government fails to give in to their demands.

But in the face of dismal popularity ratings, intensifying international pressure and mounting damage to industry, Mr Kim appears to have decided to cut his losses.

The President's about-turn occurred on the eve of a meeting in Paris today of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a grouping of rich nations which South Korea joined last December. The OECD requires entrants to recognise the right of workers to form trade unions, and yesterday's announcement will take the edge off growing criticism among other member governments.

But the battle is by no means over; both the KCTU and the officially sanctioned Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU) were dismissive of yesterday's announcement and promised to keep pressure up until the labour law is completely withdrawn.

"We are very disappointed," the KCTU secretary-general Kwon Young Kil said. "The talks today have not solved any of the basic problems, and are far from what the Korean people demanded."

A spokesman for the smaller opposition party, the United Liberal Democrats, predicted "a complete breakdown" in discussions on the dispute. "The President showed that there is a huge gulf between us in the way he interprets the current situation, and he was not sincere at all," Ahn Taek Soo said.

The strikes are already estimated to have cost more than $3bn (pounds 1.8bn) in lost production, and resolving them will not become any easier for the government over the next few weeks.

When the university term begins again next month, there are likely to be new protests from Korea's highly active student population against the new national security law, which was drafted in response to left-wing protests on campuses last summer.

Next March, union discontent will find a new focus in the annual round of spring wage negotiations. President Kim's single five-year term expires at the end of this year, and the competition is already gathering among members of his party to succeed him after elections next December.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Fans line up at the AVNs, straining to capture a photo of their favourite star
life Tim Walker asks how much longer it can flesh out an existence
Life and Style
Every minute of every day, Twitter is awash with anger as we seek to let these organisations know precisely what we think of them
techWhen it comes to vitriol, no one on attracts our ire more than big businesses offering bad service
News
Professor David Nutt wants to change the way gravely ill patients are treated in Britain
people Why does a former Government tsar believe that mind-altering drugs have a place on prescription?
News
Norway’s ‘The Nordland Line – Minute by Minute, Season by Season’ continues the trend of slow TV
television
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
art
Sport
Jonny Evans has pleaded not guilty to an FA charge for spitting at Papiss Cisse
football
Life and Style
Kate Moss will make a cameo appearance in David Walliams' The Boy in the Dress
fashion
News
The image released by the Salvation Army, using 'The Dress'
news
Sport
Liverpool defender Kolo Toure
football Defender could make history in the FA Cup, but African Cup of Nations win means he's already content
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Consultant - London - £65,000 OTE.

£65000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Engineer - central London ...

Recruitment Genius: Physiotherapist / Sports Therapist

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Physiotherapist / Sports Ther...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Advisor

£8 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives / Advisors are required...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operative

£14000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable