Korean Air cleaners declare victory in industrial dispute

September 30, 2019

Aircraft cleaners at Korean Air have ended a 53-day strike after winning key concessions from their outsourced employer, EK Manpower.

The cleaners, represented by the Korean Public Service and Transport Workers’ Union (KPTU), committed to an indefinite period of industrial action in July after negotiations broke down with EK Manpower. In response, the company sued 12 union activists for a combined total of KRW 110 million (USD 930,000) and these activists had their bank accounts frozen.

The new agreement struck with the company means the lawsuit will now be withdrawn. The company has also accepted demands for pay above the minimum wage and improved working conditions, and the manager responsible for the breakdown in industrial relations will be replaced.

The ITF family provided support to the cleaners and KPTU throughout the dispute. Along with many unions around the world, ITF civil aviation secretary Gabriel Mocho Rodriguez wrote to the chief executives of both EK Manpower and Korea Airport Service (a Korean Air subsidiary), demanding that they cease the repression of union activists and informing them that the ITF will support any escalation the workers and KPTU deemed necessary.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has repeatedly warned South Korea over its employers’ extensive use of outsourcing and their tendency to pursue legal action against union activists. The country has yet to ratify the fundamental ILO conventions on freedom of association and collective bargaining which would mark a commitment to fair labour practices across its economy.

Although KPTU has signed an agreement with EK Manpower, Korean Air – the cleaners’ economic employer – has not been directly involved in the process. The next step will be to ensure that the airline takes full responsibility for labour standards in its supply chain.

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