Dongguk University cleaning workers occupied the Main Hall demanding to fill the vacancies of workers.
/Phtograph by Hwang Hae-su
After eight cleaning workers in Dongguk University retired, the school stated that it will not employ new workers who can fill the vacancies following the retirement. The announcement triggered the cleaning workers’ strike demonstration. The cleaning workers who protested against the school were the members of Korean Confederation of Trade Unions.They opposed to the school’s decision claiming that the reduction of the work forces makes the remaining workers do more works. Now, the conflict between the school and the workers is getting worse. For this reason, The Dongguk Post has chosen to highlight the ongoing demonstration and make some suggestions about how the school can settle the problem.
Recruitment of work-based aid students caused the workers’ demonstration
Last December, several members from the Team of General Affairs in Dongguk University and the executives of Korean Confederation of Trade Unions had a meeting to discuss the alternative after the workers retired. At the meeting, the Team of General Affairs announced two measures. The first one was not filling the vacancies of eight workers who were supposed to retire. Another suggestion was shortening the workers’ working hours from eight to seven hours instead of supplementing the workers. However, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions refused the suggestions, since if there are no enough workers, the remaining workers should handle more works than before.
On December 28th, in Dongguk University website, a notice which recruited the work - based aid students to clean the school was posted. It stated that they should work for two hours and can be paid 15 thousand won per hour. Since the work-based aid students work less than the workers, the notice triggered a suspicion that the school recruited the students due to an increase in the minimum wage. Consequently, among 78 workers, 48 of them who were the members of Korean Confederation of Trade Unions started a rally on January 2nd. They demanded hiring new workers to fill the eight vacancies.
While the rally continued, the school contracted with a new cleaning service company, Taega BM, on January 29th. This made the situation worse since the company was known for unfair labor practices in Korea University Anam Hospital. Regarding this, Choi Da-hye, the leader of Seoul and Gyeong-gi branch of Korean Public Service and Transport Workers’ Union, said, “We have regarded Taega BM as a bad company. In Korea University Anam Hospital, a manager hired by Taega BM made our union divided and intentionally discriminated against us. We are worried that the company expands its business to other areas.”
However, Kim Jong-yun, the deputy manager of the Team of General Affairs mentioned that choosing cleaning service company was decided by open bid, which was a legitimate process. He said, “The Office of Purchasing & Acquisition selected the service company legally by the request of the Team of General Affairs. The school had no idea of the company’s reputation until it was chosen.” He added, “Contracting with the Taega BM has no problem since it was selected by legal process. The labor union is just assisting that Taega BM is a vicious company based on its case of dispute in the past. It defames our school’s fairness and legitimacy in the bid procedure."
The workers tried to visit the office of the President Han Tae-sik (Bogwang) demanding a meeting on January 29th. In the process of the protest, there was a clash between the workers and the school securities. Yet, the workers could not receive any answer from the President since he was absent from the office.
On the same day, the workers voted to go on a strike. The proposal was passed unanimously, with all of the 48 voters’ agreements. Since then, the workers have been holding the strike demonstration while occupying the Main Hall.
Worker demonstration is not only the case of Dongguk University
Similarly, Yonsei University has not filled the cleaning and security workers vacancies or employed part time workers partially. They have been demonstrating after 31 of them retired last December. On January 2nd, the workers started to protest against the school and the cleaning service company demanding to fill all of the vacancies. They have been holding an all-night demonstration from January 16th. Lee Kyung-ja, the leader of Yonsei University Branch of Korean Public Service and Transport Workers’ Union, said, “It is absurd to employ part time workers instead of full time workers. Even now, it is tough for full time workers to handle all of the works. Then, who can manage the works after all of the full time workers retire? We will keep the rally going until our demand is accepted.”
Some students of Yonsei University are supporting the rally, too. “Yonsei Union for Settling the Problems of Irregular Work” participated in the all-night demonstration with the workers. Also, they held a signature campaign which opposes to reducing the number of workers. With the solidarity between the workers and students, the demonstration is still underway. Oh Je Ha, an activist of the union, said, “University students and the workers are deeply related to each other. However, several universities sometimes try to come between the relationships and exploit the workers, regarding them as slaves. I want many students to have experiences such as struggling to obtain their rights, based on the solidarity between students and workers.
In addition to the workers who are participating in the ongoing protests, there are workers in other universities who have achieved their demands. Among those, workers of Hongik University succeeded in filling their vacancies lately. Four workers lost their jobs since they had not been rehired in the process of changing the cleaning service company. Because of this, on January 2nd, the workers began a rally requiring reinstatement of the four workers. From January 23rd, they held an all-night demonstration. As a result, on February 1st, the cleaning service company stated that it would employ the four workers.
Park Jin-kuk, the leader of Hongik University Branch of Korean Public Service and Transport Workers’ Union, said, “To the workers, dismissal is not just an individual problem. We cannot predict when we lose our jobs. I think the driving force to achieve our demands was ‘solidarity’ among the workers. We fought for the four workers as if it was our business. I hope the demonstration in other universities to succeed as we did.”
On January 30th, the cleaning workers and the students are holding the press conference in fornt of the Main Hall.
/Photograph by Hwang Hae-su
Before the Spring Graduation Ceremony started, some cleaning workers are demonstrating in front of the Main Auditorium.
/Photograph by Hwang Hae-su
Why the workers of Dongguk University demand for the school to withdraw its decision
The number of workers in Dongguk University has decreased from 107 in 2014 to 78 in 2018. The workers contended that the reduction can make the amount of work given to the remaining workers increase. Furthermore, they demanded that substituting the work-based aid students for the workers cannot be the solution to settle the increased work. There is a difference in working hours between the work-based aid students and the workers. While the average working hours of cleaning workers is eight hours, the work-based aid students work for just two hours. Jung Sun, a cleaning worker in the Central Library, said, “Three workers including me were cleaning all of the restrooms in the Central Library. To finish all the work given to us, we had to get to the workplace one hour earlier than obligatory attendance time.”
Kim Jong-yun, the deputy manager of the Team of General Affairs, refuted it saying, “From 2015, the work-based aid students have been replacing the vacancies of workers in the Central Library. There have been no problems in operating the building. This year, 78 workers, which are a fewer number than that of last year, will manage the school buildings. However, the workload will not be increased.” He added, “Whenever the number of the workers decreases, the area they should clean will decreases, too. The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions is defaming the school and insulting the efforts of work-based aid students.”
The school’s financial problem was not enough to logically convince the workers. They questioned whether the school lacks money to supplement only eight people. Kim Da-in, one of the cleaning workers going on a strike, said, “It does not make any sense that there is not enough money to pay the minimum wage of eight workers.” Lee Moon-sik, another worker, explained that he could not understand the decision of the school saying, “When you check the school’s one-year budget, you might notice the school would not crumble only because of eight-people’s wage."
The school announced that they will not replace any workers due to financial problems. Dongguk University received 9,070 million won donations last year and has a reserve of 47.9 billion won as of last year. The Team of General Affairs declared that those have already been set for the purpose of use. The deputy manager Kim said, “The purposes of using donations and reserves are fixed from the beginning. The kind of reserve is scholarship, research, and construction fund. According to the Private School Law, the fund cannot be used for other purposes like labor costs. When we use the reserve for other purpose, we will be imposed tough sanction from the Ministry of Education.
Various stances for the strike are shown by Donggukians
Dongguk Promotion Committee for the Future (Midongchu), Youth Student Progressive Meeting, and So-dong Association have gathered and made a group, named “Donggukian Union for Solving the Problem of Supplementing Cleaning Workers of Dongguk University” (Donggukian Union) to support the workers. The members of the union have participated in the workers’ strike together, as they have taken turns spending time and sleeping with the workers in the Main Hall. They participated in the press conferences requiring supplementing the workforces on January 15th and 30th. On 15th, Donggukian Union also submitted a questionnaire asking why it does not replace workers.
Hyeon Da-eun (Senior, Department of Korean Language Education), a member of the Donggukian Meeting, said, “At first, we did not know the situation. After we saw the protest in front of the Main Hall on January 2nd, we felt that we must do something for the workers. We sent the questionnaire on 15th, but the school never replied. Also, we have put hand-written posters and placards requiring turning back recruiting the cleaning workers all over the campus.” Lee Moon-sik appreciated the students’ support for the strike saying, “The fact that the students are with us is really helpful. I feel reassured that the students spontaneously help us.” He also said, “During the strike, other workers, who do not go on the strike, cleaned our working areas. While we stopped them from cleaning the areas to keep our job, the students helped us to take pictures and videos of them."
Donggukian Union held a signature campaign, “Opposition to Reducing the Number of Cleaning Workers and Replacing Work-Based Aid Students! Signatures in Support of Supplementing Cleaning Workers of Dongguk,” from January 12th to 17th. 871 students participated in it. Jo Joo-hee (Junior, Department of Business Administration), who took part in the campaign, shared her opinion about the situation saying, “The school should be embarrassed about violating the labor rights and listen to the voice of the workers and students. I would like to ask other students to think about what the workers’ strike and struggle is for. And I hope that Donggukians uphold the workers.”
On the other hand, there are some students, who have negative opinion about the strike. They showed their worries by writing on the Facebook Page “Dongguk Bamboo Forest.” Some people questioned if it is right that the workers have gone strike, and it is an illegal strike. Moreover, other students were worried about the school’s hygiene, since the strikers deliberately messed up the trash can.
The trash can is not cleaned up and full of garbage in the Manhae Hall.
/Photograph by Hwang Hae-su
Reaching an agreement between university and workers is needed
Several cleaning workers of universities including Dongguk University went on strikes and some of them succeeded. In this situation, the Kyunghee University model has received attention. This is the model that the university established a subsidiary company K-Ecotech and hired all 135 cleaning workers Kyunghee University last July for the first time among the universities in Korea. Thanks to these changes, the cleaning
workers have had job security, retirement age 70, and bonus increased.
The official of K-Ecotech explained the merits of the Kyunghee University model saying, “Since the employment is secure, the workers can feel easy and concentrate on their own work. In the past, the school hardly invested in the working environment of the cleaning workers, who are contract workers. But now, the school started to invest in them, acknowledging the cleaning workers as the school’s permanent employees.”
Certified labor consultant Chung Myung Ah, who participated in the press conference on January 15th, explained that the universities have poor understanding of labor’s three primary rights. She mentioned, “The universities should respect and guarantee labor’s three primary rights. Strikes are not a matter of asking the participants’ thoughts or being on the news. They are just exercising right of collective action, which is one of labor’s three primary rights.” She added, “Most of the cleaning workers are second-class citizen, who are women and the elderly, and cleaning is a work everyone avoids. It is a brave, wonderful, and natural thing for these people to strike.”
Hwang Hae-su, Yu Na-kyung firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
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