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Three migrant workers arrested in South Korea for unionising

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Three leaders of the Migrant Trade Union (MTU) were arrested by immigration officers in South Korea on 27 November. The government claims that this arrest was to decrease the number of undocumented migrant workers in the country.

(Bangkok, 4 December 2007) Three leaders of Migrant Trade Union (MTU) were arrested by South Korean immigration officers on 27 November. The government alleges this arrest was to decrease the number of undocumented migrant workers in the country.

There are about 230,000 undocumented migrant workers in South Korea, according to The Hankyoreh newspaper.1 The 11th Division of Seoul High Court set precedence on February 2007 that it is legal to protect their right to unionise. However, by not recognising the MTU, the Korean government denies their rights, including the right to organise, to strike and to bargain collectively. The main strategy of the government is to suppress the migrant workers’ activities and crack down on their leaders.

On 27 November, MTU President Kajimand, as well as the General Secretary Masum were faced by immigration officers and got arrested as they were on their way to a protest in front of Seoul Immigration Office. The Vice President Raju was arrested in front of his workplace but resisted being handcuffed by the officers. The three are currently in detention centre in Cheongju, Northern Choongcheong Province, south of Seoul. According to MTU, more than 20 members of MTU have been arrested since August 2007.

The challenge that migrant workers face is closely related to the revision of Immigration Law that was passed in early November. The amended law gives permission for immigration officers to inspect foreigners based on suspicion. MTU has expressed that this revision gave more powers to authorities to oppress undocumented workers. Another proposed revision of this law which is expected to be approved soon will legalise crackdowns without any court order.

As MTU is an affiliate of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), MTU along with KCTU demanded the Minister of Justice of South Korea to release the three executive members immediately, to stop crackdown on undocumented migrant workers and to recognise the basic labour rights of the workers.

1 The Hankyoreh, "Stop the crackdown on migrant workers", 28 November 2007