A global watchdog, Amnesty International, has called on the South Korean authorities to stop unlawful police raids and arrests of trade unionists and respect the rights of striking workers in the country.
It said about 130 trade unionists were arrested on Sunday when 5,000 policemen raided the headquarters of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, KCTU, in response to a strike by railway workers over fears that large-scale layoffs may be looming.
Several workers were injured when police used pepper spray.
The police raid, which was carried out without a search warrant, was the first on the KCTU’s headquarters since it was given legal status in 1999 and the body of trade unions describes the action as “illegal”.
“The police raid on the Kyunghyang Daily building without a search warrant is an apparent crime. We will file a complaint against the police for their criminal act to hold them accountable,” KCTU said at a press conference.
It said the Police had requested a search warrant, but a Seoul district court had dismissed the request, and, with only arrest warrants, the Police proceeded to break into its office and carry out “violent operations” which it had no right to do.
“We will ask police and President Park Geun-hye to take responsibility for this illegal labor-suppressing,” the group said, adding that it will launch a massive strike on December 28 in a protest of the Geun – hye administration.
The Lawyers for a Democratic Society in a statement said that such a police raid without a search warrant is, “an abuse by the police force.”
But the Police has flatly denied allegations that the raid was illegal.
National Police Agency Chief, Lee Sung-han, said asking the Police to take responsibility is unfair, insisting that the entry was a legitimate enforcement of law made with strong evidence that the labout leaders were hiding in the building.
The police chief said: “Police had requested search warrants before the operation, but it seems that the court dismissed it because the court didn’t consider search warrants necessary.”
He explained that police raided the office because they could not ignore wanted criminals staying at a certain place and masterminding an illegal strike.
“I made all the decisions regarding the operation and I’m the one who should take responsibility,” the Police boss said further.
The strike began on December 9 to protest a decision by Korea Railroad, KORAIL, to set up a separate company to run a new bullet train line.
The Korean Railway Workers Union, KRWU, which is part of the KCTU, fears that the move would lead to a privatization of KORAIL and large-scale layoffs.
On December 18, Prime Minister Chung Hong-won reportedly branded the railway workers’ strike “illegal” and said the government would counter the industrial action with stern measures.
KORAIL subsequently suspended 7,927 workers participating in the strike as a disciplinary action.
Warrants for arrests of 28 union officers were issued based on criminal charges of ‘obstruction of businesses’ and two union leaders were arrested.
KORAIL has also filed a lawsuit worth $7.25 million in damages against the KRWU and its 186 leaders.
Amnesty International says these developments are in direct contravention of internationally recognized labour standards.
“This is a blatant attempt by the Korean authorities to deny the rights of striking workers and to cripple the legitimate work of the trade union. It is a clear breach of international standards,” the Asia-Pacific deputy director at Amnesty International, Polly Truscott said.