Mr. Lee Myung-bak
President of the Republic
Blue House
Republic of Korea

By fax: +82 2770 1690

Dear Mr. President,

On behalf of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), which represents two million workers and strong supporters of democratic rights, I am writing to join the worldwide protest of your government’s at the arrest of Mr. Lee Suk-haeng, President of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU).

The Australian Council of Trade Unions has been informed that Mr. Lee Suk-haeng was arrested on 5 December, at 10:40 pm, in connection with his role in organising an “illegal” general strike on 2 July 2008 and in organising a solidarity action in support of the E-land Retail Precarious workers’ strike in 2007.

We understand that Mr. Lee Suk-haeng would be mainly charged with “obstruction of business” (provision in section 314 of the Penal Code) due to his role in these actions, and that he was going to be brought before a judge on Monday 8 December.

You will recall that on 24 July 2008, arrest warrants were issued against

  • Mr. Lee Suk-haeng (KCTU President)
  • Ms. Jin Young-ok (KCTU First Vice-president)
  • Mr. Lee Yong-shik (KCTU General Secretary)
  • Mr. Jung Gab-deuk (KMWU President)
  • Mr. Nam Taek-gyu (KMWU First Vice-president)
  • and all six of the top elected officers of the Hyundai Motor Branch, namely

  • Mr. Yoon Hae-mo
  • Mr. Kim Tae-gon
  • Kim Jong-il
  • Mr. Jung Chang-bong
  • Mr. Joo In-koo
  • Mr. Jo Chang-min
  • The headquarters of the KCTU were surrounded, people searched, and the homes of the KCTU leaders put under surveillance. The police even followed family members, and in the beginning of August arrested Ms. Jin Young-ok, after having followed her husband. Mr. Lee Yong-shik was arrested at a later date, and they were brought before court on 26 November.

    The Australian Council of Trade Unions has since been informed that Ms. Jin Young-ok and Mr. Lee Yong-shik have been kept in prison longer than necessary and there were fears that their bail would be revoked. This has led the KCTU to fear that there might be problems posting bail in Mr. Lee Suk-haeng’s case.

    The Australian Council of Trade Unions is appalled that trade union leaders are being arrested and detained merely for exercising fundamental workers’ rights, like to the right to strike. The right to strike encompasses both the right for workers to pursue demonstrations concerning social and economic policies affecting its members, as well as solidarity actions.

    We are very concerned about the severe form and nature of the repression, especially the deprivation of liberty of those involved and the intrusion into the privacy of family members.

    The targeting of top union leaders is blatant anti-union repression and the Australian Council of Trade Unions is disappointed that the government has chosen to keep union leaders imprisoned for longer periods in this case.

    The Australian Council of Trade Unions would like to remind your government that the arrest and detention of trade union leaders and activists are contrary to Korea’s obligations under international law, including and especially, those deriving from its membership of the International Labour Organisation.

    Korea is still not fulfilling the commitments it made to the OECD and the ILO when it joined these world bodies to respect core labour standards, notably the right to freedom of association as enshrined in ILO convention 87.

    The Australian Council of Trade Unions is urging your government to order the immediate release of Mr. Lee Suk-haeng and all other imprisoned trade unionists and that all charges against them be dropped. It also urges you to ensure that the arrest warrants against all other labour leaders be withdrawn immediately.

    In the meantime, I trust that you will pay prompt attention to this very serious matter.

    Yours sincerely
    Sharan Burrow