Unionists seeking to organize South Korean construction workers are facing a concerted campaign of harassment including “unwarranted and unjust” police investigations of the organizing drive, the Korean Federation of Construction Industries Union (KFCITU) said in a solidarity appeal issued Oct. 16.

“These investigations are an attempt to stop the KFCITU from organizing the more than two million blue-collar workers in various construction sites all across South Korea,” the union said. It said eight unionists have already been arrested in Daejeon and Chunahn, and more are expected to be detained in other cities as the police continue their harassment.

The KFCITU, an affiliate of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, is asking that letters be sent to President Roh Moo Hyun, demanding the immediate release of the eight organizers and union officials who have been arrested so far, and an end to the continuing witch-hunt police probes.

Although South Korean construction companies appear to have fully recovered and in some cases have gained significant profits since the IMF crisis of 1997, the union said, building trades workers at thousands of construction sites across the country are barely able to survive. “In fact,” the union added, “the success and rebirth of South Korean construction companies is due to the hard work of these workers.”

Organizing of blue-collar construction workers has been a major priority for the KFCITU since the merger of Korean Federation of Construction Trade Unions and the Korean Federation of Construction Workers Union in 2001. The merged union “recognized that only by organizing these workers can the union truly change the standards of the construction industry so that workers can have a livable wage, benefits such as health insurance, safe and decent working conditions, and dignity in the workplace,” the KFCITU said.

Construction companies were becoming concerned that the union’s efforts were slowly starting to pay off, with recent successes in various cities, the union said.

The police have accused union officials and organizers of using force or coercing construction site managements to sign collective bargaining agreements, and of receiving payments as a result of those agreements. “These charges are baseless and without any real merit,” the KFCITU said. “The police have refused to name sources or reveal the names of those who brought the accusations.”

The union added that it is clear from the line of police questioning and the so-called evidence gathered by police and prosecutors, that construction companies are behind the probes, and are in collusion with police and prosecutors to stop the KFCITU from continuing its organizing drive.

The KFCITU also pointed out that South Korea has ratified the International Labor Organization’s Conventions 87 and 98, which uphold the right of freedom of association and the right to a collective bargaining agreement. These are internationally recognized core standards which should be respected, the union said.

The KFCITU is urging supporters to write to President Roh Moo Hyun demanding the immediate release of the eight union officials and organizers who have been arrested as a result of the witch-hunt investigations, and an end to the probes that are an attempt by police and construction firms to undermine trade union and worker rights in South Korea.

Messages may be sent to: Hon. Roh Moon Hyun, President, Republic of Korea, Blue House, Seoul, South Korea, at the following fax number: 011-82-2-770-1690, or e-mail: president@cwd.go.kr.

Please send copies to KFCITU at fax: 011 82-2-843-1436 or e-mail:or jinsook57@hotmail.com.