|▲ /Photograph: provided by The Press of Dongguk|
Disputes with cleaning workers and the school have been settled for the moment after Dongguk guaranteed the workers continuous employment. Some issues, however, like a five-day workweek and overtime pay remain unresolved.
On last December 30th, more than 70 cleaning workers in their 50’s and 60’s held a sit-in protest all night long in the main building of Dongguk as the terms of their contracts were to expire on January 1st. The workers ate and slept on the cold floor of the building for three days waiting for a definitive answer from the school that they would be continually employed. One angry lady even shaved her head in a sign of protest.
“We worked at Dongguk University for a long time, but the school told us to leave out without any reasonable answers. The reason for our layoff, I guess, is because we formed a labor union two month’s ago,” a man at the head row of the protest said. The labor union was formed October 29th.
On last November 30th, Dongguk canceled contract with the service company, and switched to a different service company. In turn, the company informed the workers of the termination of their contracts on December 31st. Since then, the cleaning workers launched a campaign against, what they deem was an unfair layoff, by gathering signatures from the student body of Dongguk. Roughly 8000 out of the total of 12,000 students at Dongguk gave their signatures in supporting the cleaning workers.
Dongguk expressed their own concerns over the issue by sending an E-mail to all students. In the E-mail it stated “Legally, the school is not engaged in a conflict with the cleaning workers. We have paid for cleaning services to the company. The reason we have not extended contracts is because the cleaners have not fulfilled their normal duties, so we have opted to change companies.”
The student council, however, has posted in hand-written paper blame upon the school for its decision. The poster says, “The actual power whether the workers stay or leave rests with the school.” The school opted not to get into a war of words.
After this argument, school gave no response with problem, escalating doubt over workers employment. 3 days before the expiration of contract, cleaning workers move into an action requiring clear response to school. Despite the freezing weather, the protest continued and with many students’ support the school caved in and guaranteed the workers further employment, and it now seems the problems with cleaning workers have been settled.
Most Korean Universities do not directly hire cleaning workers, instead choosing to hire workers through labor-supply service companies. This hiring process has resulted in lower than average wages for the workers.
The cleaning workers at Hongik University have had similar situations with the school. Unlike the conflict that has occurred at Dongguk, the conflict was much larger. The workers at Hongik protested since the beginning of the year. In return, Hongik University has accused their workers of disrupting the school’s normal working hours. Members of the Korean Professors Union have sent a letter to the president of Hongik University in hopes that the problem can be settled. The dispute at Honggik University reflects that this problem is developing into a social issue.
Furthermore, the problems between the cleaning workers and Dongguk have not been perfectly settled. Although their employment status has temporally been extended, it remains to seen whether the school will accept additional requests from the workers. The president of the student council said, “We are going to negotiate this matter with the school and send a letter to Dongguk University so that the workers can have better conditions.”
Lee Jong-seok email@example.com
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