‘Representatives of workers who do not work’, ‘gap’ between skyless union officials and ordinary workers

Labor union officials spark controversy over abuse of time-off system, exceeding limit is 'routine'
The Seoul Metropolitan Government also advocates ‘responsibility’, “just a ‘warning to the agency’ without punishing the head of the agency”
Established unions that reign as the ‘privileged class’ are “not interested” in workers’ rights
November 2023, 11 Public Transport Workers Union Seoul Transportation Corporation Union General Strike Victory Resolution Meeting/Photo = Public Transport Workers Union

There is controversy over the Seoul Transportation Corporation selecting labor union executives under investigation for unauthorized absenteeism as candidates for overseas training. There is criticism internally that this is a move that runs counter to the company’s policy of severely punishing anyone who abuses the working hour exemption (time-off) system. Externally, public opinion also reached its worst point. It is expected that the image of the union itself will inevitably take a hit as derogatory names such as ‘skyless union’ and ‘noble union’ are poured out in various Internet communities.

Seoul Transportation Corporation to send union executives for absenteeism abroad for training?

On the 18th, the Seoul Transportation Corporation announced the final recipients of the ‘Information and Communication Technology (ICT) advanced institution training’. The target number of people is a total of 200, and the corporation plans to send them to three countries, Japan, Taiwan, and the United States, for training for about 3 days and 4 nights by next month. This training is the first overseas training program for employees since 5, when restrictions were imposed on overseas movement following COVID-19. The corporation has been operating irregular overseas training programs with the purpose of increasing employee morale and encouraging benchmarking of advanced overseas institutions. The problem is that among the training recipients is Mr. A, who is being investigated by the audit office for unauthorized absence by abusing time-off. In other words, Mr. A was selected as a training target even before the audit results were released. It is known that Mr. A is the secretary general of a headquarters of the Korea Federation of Trade Unions Seoul Transportation Corporation, the construction’s largest labor union.

As a result, there was strong opposition from within the construction company. The ‘Right Union’, composed of MZ generation employees of the Seoul Transportation Corporation, immediately issued a statement condemning “the process of selecting company trainees has lost fairness.” A union official pointed out, “Mr. A is under investigation because he did not fulfill his basic duty of commuting to and from work, which is one of the most basic duties as an employee.” He added, “Is it right for the subject of the investigation to leave for training and have fellow employees around him undergo an investigation for audit purposes?” The union’s policy is to request follow-up processing from the company if Mr. A’s disciplinary action is confirmed in the future. The training selection criteria clearly states that ‘those who have received disciplinary action cannot apply for training.’ Among employees, there are voices criticizing Mr. A for applying for overseas training even during the investigation into abuse of the time-off system. A construction employee raised his voice, saying, “The time-off for union executives became controversial in October and November of last year, and the application for training was made in December,” adding, “Nevertheless, the problem started with Mr. A applying for training.”

Union executives who are deviant and do not even adhere to time-off limits

Recently, the continued deviant behavior of union officials has been coming to the surface. In December of last year, Seoul Transportation Corporation imposed severe disciplinary action, including dismissal, on four union officials who were absent without notice under the pretext of time-off. The Seoul Metropolitan Government previously notified the corporation of the results of an audit showing that there were many union officials whose work records were not properly verified. According to the corporation, an investigation is currently underway into approximately 12 union officials. In November last year, it was confirmed that a union official at the construction company enjoyed personal hobbies, such as surfing, in the Gangwon-do area by taking advantage of a meeting he had applied for under the pretext of union activities. In fact, a Seoul Transportation Corporation employee who was surfing at the time had an accident while surfing and even lost consciousness. The employee used his personal vacation to enjoy surfing, but was reported to have regained consciousness after being transported to Gangneung Aseon Hospital after the accident.

As a result of the Seoul Metropolitan Government’s own audit in 2022, six union executives were identified who had no entry or exit records during most normal working days. Although detections have been made numerous times, insiders say that this is still just the tip of the iceberg. In relation to this, Mr. B, an insider who left the union, said, “Among the people who violated the time-off, there is an executive who worked as a reporter and only received a salary without working for over 6 years,” and added, “What is even funnier is that such a person wields collective bargaining rights and is the boss. He said, “It is said that it has been ranked as a hippopotamus.” The corporation currently estimates that the accumulated unfair wages subject to recovery due to more than 20 union members violating the time-off system will amount to 100 billion won.

There was also testimony that the time-off limit itself was not observed. The time-off limit announced by the Seoul Metropolitan Government was 32 people last year on a part-time basis, but the number of people who actually used time-off reached 311. A total of 279 people were exceeded. If wages are paid in excess of the time-off limit, it is considered an unfair labor practice under the Labor Union Act and the head of the organization is subject to punishment. In addition, unfairly received wages are also subject to refund. However, the city of Seoul stopped short of issuing an ‘agency warning’ to institutions that did not adhere to the time-off limit. As a result, it was revealed that six foundations, including the Seoul Welfare Foundation, the Seoul Women and Family Foundation, the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra, the Seoul 50 Plus Foundation, and the Seoul Public Health and Medical Foundation, where the mayor of Seoul has the right to appoint heads of institutions, operated a time-off system without any control device. This is why Seoul City cannot be free from responsibility.


Established unions only focus on ashes, workers’ rights are ‘out of sight’

In Korea, labor unions are represented by the words ‘noble union’ and ‘gunpok’. This is the public opinion of ‘common people’ regarding unions. The union has long since abandoned its principle of prioritizing the rights of ordinary workers. Recently, unions are making unreasonable demands, such as preferential hiring of children of long-term employees, rather than protecting basic rights. In particular, in the case of strong labor unions, if their demands are not accepted, they will put all their efforts into expropriating rights, such as disrupting production through illegal strikes or causing difficulties in attracting corporate investment. The actions of these unions are infringing on corporate freedom and at the same time making the labor market rigid. Although it speaks of rights, it is an expression of group egoism that only pursues the interests of the group. This is why established unions are being denied, especially by working-class workers, especially MZ workers.

Selfish illegal strikes, the fundamental evils of established unions that cannot distinguish between hard-line policies and violent protests, and the immorality of executives who often engage in deviant behavior, all of these actions create a gap between ‘unions’ and ‘workers.’ Whenever voices pointing out illegal practices arise, established labor unions have shown strong opposition, saying, “This is labor oppression through damaging the union.” However, the MZ union counters by saying, “It is labor oppression when a group that is supposed to protect the rights and interests of workers is absent without permission and is causing difficulties for field workers.” With the emergence of the MZ union, which stands in opposition to the established unions that have begun to reign as the ‘privileged class,’ the underdog media play unique to the established unions has no longer been effective. Established unions that are more interested in ashes than workers’ rights are essentially targets of destruction. Whether society really needs representatives of workers who do not work is a question that needs to be reconsidered.

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