Australian Unions Support Korean Rail Workers

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Korean railway workers on strike
Korean railway workers on strike

THE AUSTRALIAN Manufacturing Workers’ Union (AMWU) has rallied with other Australian unions to increase worldwide pressure on the South Korean government to cease its brutal attacks on rail workers’ human rights.

Major Australian unions pledged solidarity with the Korean Railway Workers Union (KRWU) and the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) during protests outside South Korean consulates in Melbourne on Wednesday, January 8th, and in Sydney last Thursday, January 2nd.

The KRWU’s 23-day strike against rail privatisation resulted in 4,600 riot police backing 900 SWAT Squad enforcers in a violent invasion of the headquarters of the peak KCTU as the government agencies hunted the nation’s union leaders.

The strike ended on New Years Eve with a compromise on better consultation with the KRWU over the future of Korea’s government rail system.

But mass protests continue because the government has refused to withdraw arrest warrants against 35 KRWU officials, charges against 130 unionists arrested in the raid or cease a $7.5 billion lawsuit against the KRWU over action it deemed illegal.

Australian union leaders have put the government of President Park Geun-hye on notice that South Korean diplomatic posts and possibly companies would face continued protests until all legal action and any penalty against the strikers was ruled out.

AMWU Assistant Secretary Glenn Thompson addressed a lunchtime rally on Wednesday outside the Melbourne consulate on the eve of a second general strike in Seoul, which follows a street protest by 100,000 South Koreans two weeks ago.

Thompson said South Korea’s government would never gain international respect or standing until it started behaving like a ‘true democracy’ and respecting workers’ human rights.

‘South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye may openly admire the late Margaret Thatcher but she should know her government has been condemned worldwide by SIGTUR (Southern Initiative on Globalisation and Trade Union Rights), The Council of Global Unions and Amnesty International,’ he said.

Joining the AMWU were the Maritime Union of Australia, the Rail, Tram and Bus Union, the Transport Workers Union and the Communications Electrical Plumbing Union.

ACTU president Ged Kearney, praised the courage of 7,900 strikers of the KRWU before delivering a letter to the South Korean Consulate in Melbourne demanding all legal action be withdrawn.

She said no worker or union official exercising their right to strike should have to face the intimidation of the kind ordered by the South Korean government of President Park Geun-hye.

The strike was sparked by majority private ownership of KORAIL’s new bullet train extension from Seoul to Pusan, which the KRWU fears will spearhead the gradual privatisation of the government system.

‘What the anti-privatisation action of the rail workers did was cause an extreme government to rear its ugly head, a government intent on breaking workers and violating human rights,’ Kearney told protesters.

• A young worker tragically died after falling 30 metres from scaffolding at the Barangaroo construction site in Sydney on Thursday, said the New South Wales branch of Australia’s Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU).

The CFMEU added: ‘Emergency services were called to the site, just south of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, at around 8.30am after Lend Lease construction workers reported that a man had plunged about 30 metres to the ground.

‘The young worker’s workmates attempted CPR on him but he was pronounced dead when the paramedics arrived on site.

‘At this stage, both WorkCover and the Union have not been able to gain access to the site as it is still being treated as a crime scene and being controlled by the Police.

‘CFMEU officials state it’s still too early to say what made the young worker fall but it’s a tragedy.

‘There are concerns though about the lack of supervision and mentoring for young workers on site as the young worker had only been on this site for a couple of weeks and was in an area he shouldn’t have been and was unsupervised.

‘The 500 workers that were on site, some of whom witnessed the tragic fall have walked off the job and are being assisted by the CFMEU and counsellors from Mates in Construction, a suicide prevention programme for construction workers after discussions between the union and Lend Lease management.

‘There will be further investigations and meetings once the Police enquiries are complete.’

State Secretary Brian Parker says: ‘Another life lost at work is an absolute tragedy and something these workers will never forget.

‘The safe return home from work is something that all workers should expect and demand and something we will always fight for.

‘Abbott and O’Farrell are constantly looking to restrict union official’s right of entry to building sites and still looking to bring harsher penalties to union officials and workers that stop work due to serious injury or fatality at work rather than imposing harsher penalties on employers when their safety breaches and cost cutting result in the injury or even death of a worker. It’s appalling.’

• The Health Service Union (HSU) says: ‘As many of you may already know, news emerged over the holiday break that the Abbott government plans to introduce a $6 fee which will be levied on any person visiting their doctor.

‘HSU National strongly opposes this measure given it will harm the poorest and sickest among us.

‘Patient co-payments already account for shockingly high 17% of health spending in Australia’s universal healthcare system.

‘Furthermore, 2013 data from the National Health Performance Authority shows that 15% of people have delayed seeing a GP because of the cost.

‘Proponents of the fee, including Tony Abbott’s former policy advisor, argue that it would reduce “avoidable” GP visits; however, for millions of Australians, $6 is the difference between getting better and getting sicker.

‘To put things in perspective:

‘• Over 2.2 million Australians live below the poverty line, including approximately 575,000 children.

‘• Approximately 27.4% of people with a disability live below the poverty line.

‘• Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are more likely to experience poverty than other Australians. For these Australians, $6 is a cost that they simply can’t afford.

‘In addition to turning the neediest away from seeking healthcare altogether, this fee also risks shifting patients from their local GP to hospital emergency wards, adding undue strain on the hospital system.

‘This is yet another cruel, short-sighted proposal from a government that refuses to govern for all Australians. However, together we can stop this proposal from ever becoming reality.

‘Rallies are being held in Melbourne and Perth on Saturday, 11th January and you can sign the online petition here.

‘Further information on HSU National’s involvement in the campaign to Save our Medicare will be made available via the website and on our Facebook and Twitter pages.’