The president of theKorean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), Yang Kyeung-soo, was arrested on 2 September 2021 in a predawn raid of his Seoul office. Hundreds of policemen encircled the building as officers pried open the door.
The KCTU had organised a rally in downtown Seoul on 3 July, calling on the government to address inequality deepened by the pandemic. The government did not permit the rally, citing super-spreader concerns. It later issued a warrant for Yang’s arrest for allegedly violating the Criminal Act provisions against general obstruction of traffic, the Assembly and Demonstration Act and the Act on Infectious Disease Control and Prevention. The allegations were contested by the KCTU: about 8,000 union members attended the rally, carefully following government guidelines for social distancing. After the event, only three attendees tested positive for Covid, with little evidence to tie their infections to the rally.
His detention seemed more designed to disrupt the KCTU’s preparations for a national strike on 20 October to call on all its 1.1 million members to demand improvements to workers' rights. Yang is the 13th KTCU president in a row to be jailed since the federation was unbanned in 1997.
In 2021, Hyundai helped set up a car manufacturing plant in southwest Korea so that it could produce cars cheaply and, crucially, without unions. The new car plant, opening in late 2021, is operated by Gwangju Global Motors (GGM), a newly established company founded by the city of Gwangju, which has a majority share of 21 per cent, while Hyundai has a 19 per cent stake. The aim was primarily to avoid unionised labour. Most of the workers at Hyundai itself are unionised and have successfully taken industrial action to achieve higher wages. Average annual pay at Hyundai is 88 million won. At the new plant, dubbed the "half-wage factory", the average annual pay is 35 million won, which is below the national average of 42.34 million won for company employees.
Dismissals for participating in strike action
In April 2021, the Korea Democratic Pharmaceutical Union (KDPU) announced that a lawsuit was being filed against Zuellig Pharma Specialty Solutions Korea for unfair dismissal.
The company had announced that it would implement an early retirement programme to lay off staff after some financial losses. It soon emerged that the staff members concerned were all members of the company workers’ union who had gone on strike on 30 October 2020 over a pay dispute.