While excited crowds of freshmen filled the campus on the first day of school, there were people with grief who were passionately holding a strike at the same time. The conflicts between employers and temporary employees at Korea University (KU), were blunted with anger and disputes.
Without much difficulty, one could have found roughly handwritten posters among many other fancy recruitment advertisements on the walls. With a closer look, one will know that the laborers are demanding some improvements in their working conditions. With a serious face, Yeon Eun Jung (’11, Korean Language Education) who is currently a member of the Laborer Solidarity Student Group KU Gathering, explains the overall situation of the issue.
The recent issue of temporary employees mainly involved the labor union composed of cleaning men and parking managers. Rise in wages, protection of the worker’s rights and equal opportunities for facility use were what the laborers had been mainly asking for. “People’s revenue decreased about 200,000 won to 400,000 won after the working hours on Saturdays were compulsively reduced. It was hard to maintain their lives with the wage they were receiving,” says Yeon.
A few years ago, collecting waste paper within the campus, which had been a good means of earning money for the employees, was abolished and consequently worsened their financial situation. As a result, through diverse means such as posters, signature-seeking campaigns and finally holding a strike, they wanted to raise their wage from 5,700 won to 7,000 won per hour.
▲ Student looking at the posters. Photographed by Yoo Seung Joo.
Human rights problems were one of their biggest concerns as well. For instance, parking managers, who have to stay 24 hours in a container box, were under surveillance cameras throughout the day and had to suffer from the stress of being watched. “They could not even check their phones in case they would be reported through the cameras,” explains Yeon.
Regarding facility use, the workers asked to be treated equally as other employees. In fact, compared to other workers, such as professors of the school, those who are working as parking managers or cleaning men had to pay more money when using certain facilities within the campus, including the school cafeterias.
Complexity of the Issue
Unfortunately, ever since the labor union was first created in 2004, there have been periodic disputes between employers and employees where interests of both sides had been complexly intertwined.
The school is indirectly employing the workers by subcontracting with an enterprise named CNS. There had been eight attempts of negotiation where CNS and the employees held meetings until the final amendment was made.
According to the school, it was not easy to raise the wages of the employees due to lack of budget. Since it has been decided to freeze tuition fees of the university, the school was facing difficulty in responding to the needs of the temporary employees. Also, increase in the wage of working scholarship students added more pressure to their budget.
“It does not make sense that the school is not raising the wages due to lack of budget,” argues Yeon against the announcement, stressing each word as she speaks. Some showed great suspicion toward the school’s position because the tuition fee for graduate school, on the other hand, increased 3 percent.
Students: From Observers to Actors
It was not only Yeon who seemed so passionate to participate in the move. In fact, student councils from different colleges also volunteered to support the strike of the laborers. Starting from the student council of the College of Natural Science, student council of the College of Liberal Arts, Education and many others joined to support the move. Other groups in KU such as Club Federation and Kodaemunhwa also participated in the move.
Through SNS, they shared their thoughts toward recent incidents and small posters showing support toward the move were stuck on the walls. They also visited the places where strikes were being held. Moreover, they held signature-seeking campaigns in order to raise awareness of the issue.
Is it the End?
It was March 13 that the strike officially ended. After having reached a consensus, the wage increased to 6200 won per hour and pay for meals increased from 20,000 won to 90,000 won. Moreover, holiday bonuses on New Year’s Day and Chuseok increased from 340,000 won to 360,000 won.
However, it is unclear whether it is the real end of the deeply rooted tension between the two sides. To an ordinary student who attends KU, the campus might seem beautiful with flowers and trees blooming everywhere. However, it would be recommended to also be aware of such issues that are occurring on the other side of the campus and show at least a little interest and care. With harmony between the laborers and the school, KU would be able to add more prestige to itself.
▲ Handwritten posters stuck by temporary employees. Photographed by Yoo Seung Joo.