Thousands protest roll back of pro-labour policies

Peaceful assembly

Workers protest lack of labour reforms

On 21st November 2018, tens of thousands of workers launched a half-day strike across South Korea, accusing the government of rolling back pro-labour policies in the face of deepening economic woes. According to the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), a major labour umbrella group, around 40,000 of those who put down tools - including some in the car industry - rallied in the capital Seoul and 13 other cities. Almost 10,000 of those gathered outside the country's parliament wearing red headbands, chanting slogans and waving banners, as hundreds of riot police took positions nearby.

Jung Su-nam, KCTU spokesperson said:

"Since President Moon Jae-in came to power, the policies on labour have gone backward. Even though he raised minimum wage by 16 percent, he revised the sector to be included in the calculation of wages only to make the raise useless for workers…if this situation doesn't change, we are willing to make another strike to make things right."
Transgender group protests against discrimination 

On 18th November 2018, there was a rally in Itaewon, Seoul, to commemorate the Transgender Day of Remembrance, organised by a transgender rights group known as the Trans Liberation Front (TLF). Approximately 600 people gathered to protest against discrimination, hatred, and violence against transgender people in South Korea and to commemorate victims of hate crimes. During the rally, Kwak Soo Jin, a member of the Justice Party, stated that there is widespread systemic social violence against transgender people in South Korea and there is often a lack of legal accountability for this.

For LGBTI people living in the country, fitting in is difficult due to highly conservative traditional gender norms. While transgender South Koreans can now have their gender changed legally they still have a hard time in society and in finding jobs. Many transgender people get jobs that do not require identity cards to avoid discrimination, such as factory work and other low-paying labour.

Students gather to protest sexual harassment

On 19th November 2018, the very first public protest of ‘School Me Too’ was held in Daegu. After a series of online campaigns approximately a hundred students, supporters and civil society actors gathered to call for a safe environment for education for all. At the protest, students gathered and denounced verbal and physical abuses by their teachers as part of the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment.

As documented previously by the CIVICUS Monitor, South Korea’s #MeToo movement has spread across the nation, especially after female prosecutor Seo Ji-hyun revealed publicly in January 2018 that she had been sexually harassed by a senior prosecutor in 2010. The #MeToo movement in South Korea has been pushing for a review of defamation laws. Korea’s libel law has been criticised because the law works in favour of powerful and high-profile people. The threat of harsh criminal sanctions, especially imprisonment, severely undermines women speaking out about sexual harassment.

Space for protest established outside the National Assembly

On 1st November 2018, the Citizens’ Free Speech Podium was set up in front of the National Assembly building by the People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, the National YMCA of Korea, Transparency International – Korea and Citizens' Coalition for Economic Justice to provide a space for activists, citizens and civil society actors to hold demonstrations on judicial and legal reforms as well as the fight against the corruption. The podium is to be available every Thursday from 1st November to 27th December 2018.


Civil society concerned about abuse of law on surveillance

On 19th November 2018, a roundtable discussion was organised to discuss the August 2018 ruling by the constitutional court calling for amendments to the Protection of Communications Secrets Act to ensure greater oversight over surveillance by state agencies. Among those who participated in the discussion include parliamentarian, Park Joo Min, Korean Lawyers for Public Interest and Human Rights (KLPH), Progressive Network Center, People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy and other human rights groups.

At the discussion, the participants discussed the need to revisit and re-examine the law, criticising the National Intelligence Service and other governmental investigation agencies for abusing their powers by wiretapping and monitoring private information. For instance, on 6th November, an independent investigation concluded that the Defense Security Command has conducted illegal surveillance of the 2014 Sewol ferry disaster victims’ family members, in order to convince them against the need to recover the ferry which had left more than 300 passengers dead or missing. By doing so, the agency hoped to address worsening public sentiment over former President Park Geun-hye’s handling of the sinking.