EU presses Seoul to take meaningful steps for ILO ratification by April


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 The European Commission urged South Korea on Tuesday to take meaningful actions over the next three months to resolve the long-pending ratification of key international labor conventions.

Madelaine Tuininga, unit head in the Directorate-General for Trade of the EU’s governing body, made the remark in the meeting with South Korean labor union representatives earlier in the day, according to the Federation of Korea Trade Unions (FKTU) and the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), two major umbrella labor union groups.

Tuininga was quoted as saying that the South Korean government should produce a substantive outcome in the next April meeting for the ratification of International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions and that the next few months are critical.

Yoo Jeong-yeop (3rd from R), police chief at the Federation of Korea Trade Unions (FKTU), shakes hands with Madelaine Tuininga, unit head in the Directorate-General for Trade of the European Commission, at a conference room in Seoul on Jan. 22, 2019, ahead of talks on the ratification of International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions. Yonhap

She was accompanied by a group of EU delegates who were in Seoul for consultations with government and labor officials on what the EU sees as a lack of progress in Korea’s ratification of the labor provisions. They met with labor ministry officials Monday.

The EU points out that Seoul has not made enough efforts to approve the ILO provisions as agreed in their free trade agreement (FTA) implemented in 2011.

South Korea joined the United Nations agency on labor in 1991 but hasn’t ratified four key conventions. They include allowing self-employed people to form a labor union and also allowing labor union activities for dismissed or unemployed people.

The provisions also call for Seoul to amend the criminal law by which the prosecution can charge a unionized worker for obstruction of business if he participates in a strike.

Tuininga also stressed that Korea’s ILO ratification is a key agenda item that is taken very seriously by the European Commission. She said it is possible for the EU to demand an expert panel as a follow-up measure after mid-March if the outcome is not deemed fruitful.

Korea and the EU have 90 days, or until March 17 in this case, to settle the dispute under a mechanism in the Trade and Sustainable Development (TSD) chapter in their free trade agreement (FTA). The EU made the request for consultations in December.

Tuininga was quoted as saying that the TSD chapter is not merely symbolic but enumerates responsibilities of the trade partners and that the EU will continue to ask the Korean business sector for the guarantee of labor rights.

In Tuesday’s meeting, FKTU and KCTU slammed the Korean government for not doing enough to ratify the provisions.

FKTU, the larger of the two, said earlier in the meeting that the ILO ratification is “not a matter of bargaining,” sending a clear message of refusal to the business circle over its proposal that it ratify the conventions on condition that the labor sector makes concessions over labor reform.

A council of labor, management, government and those representing various social strata was launched last year as a social dialogue group to discuss labor issues, including the ratification of the ILO conventions. It plans to announce the result of the council discussion by the end of the month.

Failing to ratify the ILO provisions does not necessarily lead to additional tariffs or penalties, but the Korean government worries that a delayed process could act as a barrier to expanding free trade between the two sides.

The EU delegation also met with major business lobby groups to hear their point of views on the ratification issue.


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