BWI on the arrest of KCTU Chair Yang Kyeung-soo

The Building and Woodworkers’ International (BWI), representing 12 million workers worldwide, stands in solidarity with the South Korean workers in condemning the arrest of  Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) Chairperson Yang Kyeung-soo who was arrested on 2 September for leading massive rallies last July to demand better working conditions, higher wages and a moratorium on worker dismissals. 

BWI deplores the vilification of the South Korean workers’ rights to peaceful assembly, association and freedom of expression as “contributing factors” to the new wave of COVID-19 infections in the country. As if the pandemic has not brought enough suffering to workers, authorities have also weaponised the global health crisis to undermine labour rights and muzzle the trade unionists’ voice of dissent.

We reiterate our position that workers don’t lose their rights even amidst a pandemic. On the contrary, workers’ rights, particularly on job security, decent wages and occupational health and safety, must be strengthened all the more to protect them from the harshest effects of the crisis. 

BWI adds its voice in calling on the South Korean authorities to immediately release Yang and drop all the charges lodged against him. The South Korean government must not turn the global health crisis into a full-blown labour crisis. Instead of viewing its differences with the trade unionists simply as a law enforcement issue, it must respond with deep empathy and a sincere desire to listen and act to their legitimate demands and grievances.  The fact that workers risk their health and even their lives to protest and assert their rights in the middle of a pandemic demonstrates the depths of their agony and desperation. 

Like the millions of workers around the globe, the working people of South Korea have lost so much from the pandemic. Their government must not add to their profound misery by ignoring their grievances, depriving them of their rights and putting them behind bars. As bad as the pandemic has been, this must be an occasion to build more bridges of solidarity, understanding and cooperation, not walls of division and inequality.