▲ Student Council for labor issues protesting against Taega BM. PROVIDED BY YEON EUNJUNG.
President Yeom Jae Ho constantly tells students and faculty members that Korea University (KU) should become more global. This is a goal the school can aspire to only after its internal turmoil is solved—the ongoing mistreatment of manual laborers in KU has drawn anger from workers and students alike. To make real progress, guaranteeing human dignity by treating members of the schools with respect and equality should be the first step to achieve KU’s global status.
Since July, the Korea University Anam Hospital has been facing protests from cleaners and manual laborers employed there. Their complaint is that KU Anam Hospital, which is the main contractor for the cleaners, breached the agreement by allowing the subcontractor, Taega BM, to exploit their labor by extending the contract for another 20 years without a proper agreement.
The biggest problem is that each year, KU Anam Hospital is to hold an open bid for subcontractors through the process of competition. However, for 20 years, Taega BM did not go through any such process—another source of the laborers’ discontent, as Taega BM has continuously been conducting unfair labor practices and ignoring legal rights by taking advantage of the workers.
Yeon Eunjung (’11, Korean Language Education), the current leader of the student council for labor issues, elaborated on the mistreatment these laborers have been receiving. Some of the partial treatment that cleaners were subjected to include some workers getting to leave 30 minutes early and some being assigned the most timeconsuming places to clean. She stated that, according to one of the cleaners, a male employee from Taega BM even physically abused one of the female cleaners and got away without punishment.
These types of unethical situations occur frequently under the supervision from Taega BM. Furthermore, the laborers are supposed to be directly supervised by the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), under whose watch workers enjoy more privileges and are treated relatively better. The presence of a subcontractor, and an abusive one, has led them to protest.
Due to frequent mistreatment, the cleaners have requested a meeting multiple times to the KU General Affairs Team by asking for an official request form. Their submission having been left unanswered for two weeks, the laborers went directly to the General Affairs Team only to receive a reply saying that they cannot have a meeting. Yeon, who participated in the rallies, recounted that, “Everyone was puzzled because when we requested the form we were ignored, but when we went to ask for a meeting straight away they immediately said, ‘No.’” She went on to say that every attempt they took to set up a meeting has been cut off.
There is currently a Facebook page campaigning for the rights of manual workers in KU, known as the Korea University Student Counseling for Solving Sanitation/ Parking/ Security/ Labor Issues. The group’s efforts include posting updates on the issue on the campus wall poster, conducting various surveys, and protesting near the Central Plaza, People’s Square and KU Anam Hospital. This group is not the only one that has committed themselves to helping manual laborers in KU; it has frequently collaborated with student councils from various majors, as well as other labor-related organizations within KU.
▲ Manual laborers protesting in People’s Square. PROVIDED BY KOREA UNIVERSITY STUDENT COUNSELING FOR SOLVING SANITATION/ PARKING/ SECURITY/ LABOR ISSUES FACEBOOK PAGE.
The laborers in KU Anam Hospital are not the only ones struggling with this issue. In fact, Korea has been and is still going through the same problems. Even though full-time workers and nonregular workers do the same amount of work, discrimination still exists in salary and welfare. The concept of non-regular workers has only been recently formed, and while it might be good for main contractors, its presence will make it much more challenging to raise the minimum wage in South Korea. The unfair advantage some companies thrust upon full-time workers can often act as chains for those who wish to speak out about their mistreated colleagues.
Yeon elaborated on the societal pressure involved in solving issues related to inequality. “If KU decides to become a visionary and converts nonregular workers to full-time workers, other universities would also feel pressured to do the same. At the same time, there is a high likelihood of backlash from other universities and organizations with comments accusing KU for making an unnecessary alteration to the full-time and non-regular workers’ system.” Still, KU needs to make this change if it seeks to truly become a global university. KU’s manual laborers have been responsible for opening the gates, controlling parking spaces, and cleaning classrooms—for providing a better educational environment. Their efforts to raise up the students of KU deserve more than the reaction the school has shown so far.
To solve this issue as soon as possible, students and manual laborers need to join forces; problems can be solved more easily when people give voice to each other’s opinions. As a matter of fact, in 2011 when Yeon was a freshman, she saw a poster stating, “Lower the tuition fee and raise minimum wages.” This was the work of both the students and manual laborers in KU. She recounted, “Back then, we demanded KU to care more about the students and laborers than new buildings.” Eventually, after both the students and laborers fought together, the salary increased while the tuition fee dropped two percent.
Simon Sinek, an eminent author, speaker, and marketing consultant, once said, “I imagine a world in which the vast majority of people wake up inspired to go to work, feel safe when they’re there and return home at the end of the day fulfilled by the work they do.” Truly, fulfillment is a fundamental human right, and everyone should be able to demand such from their workplaces. KU’s manual laborers are still on the move, striving to achieve contentment. Perhaps with the help of students, the obstacles will be solved much faster
* Korea University Student Association (KUSA), College of Education Student Council, Liberal Arts Student Council, College of Political Science and Economics Student Council, among others