Workers Struggles: Asia, Australia and the Pacific


Occupation broken by riot police in South Korea

Over 3,600 riot police used bulldozers to storm the Ulsan plant of South Korea's Hyosung Corporation early on June 5, ending a 12-day strike and occupation by 1,400 workers. Workers seized the plant on May 28, following the arbitrary sacking of 14 of their colleagues and fears of more job losses.

Hyosung is the world's largest polyester tyre-cord producer. The mobilisation of riot police to reopen its plant marks a return by the government to the use of massive force against industrial disputes. The administration of Kim Dae-jung faced bitter recriminations after a violent police attack on sacked Daewoo workers on April 10. In late May, business groups sharply criticised the government for its reluctance to use police against strikers in the weeks since, declaring labour unrest was threatening investment.

In response, 6,000 riot police attacked Daewoo workers and their supporters last weekend who were protesting outside the National Police Agency in Seoul. Another 700 workers demonstrated outside of the Korean offices of General Motors against the company's plan to takeover Daewoo and sack thousands of workers.

Korean concrete truck drivers demand union recognition

Concrete truck owner-drivers in South Korea are continuing a 50-day long strike for union rights. The drivers went on strike on April 6 to demand that the concrete companies recognise the Korea Construction Transportation Workers Union (KCTWU) and for an improvement in their working conditions. More than 600 drivers have been conducting a sit-in near the parliament building in Seoul since May 24.

In the early 1990s, concrete firms sold their ready-mix trucks to their employee drivers, forcing them to become contractors. In August last year employer groups representing the concrete companies opposed the KCTWU's application to the industrial court for registration, on the basis that the workers were not employees, but contractors.

Employers reacted to official recognition of the union by a full hearing of the industrial court and driver moves to establish branches across the country by launching a violent campaign, including thug attacks on union meetings. One attack in March, carried out on the founding meeting of the Eugene KCTWU branch, hospitalised 22 workers. When the union demanded police action, the authorities responded by arresting and imprisoning five workers for three weeks.

So far over 500 workers have been sacked for striking, 50 have been injured in attacks and more than 70 have been placed on charges.

Indonesian hospital workers protest suspension

Jakarta hospital employees protested at the city council on June 5 following their suspension for forming a trade union. A spokeswoman for the workers said they had formed a union to fight for improved pay and working conditions. Nurses with five years service at the hospital receive only 296,000 rupiah ($US26.40) a month, far below the monthly minimum 426,000 rupiah paid to other workers in the Indonesian capital.

Hospital management originally suspended an executive member of the new union, leading workers to launch a petition campaign calling for her reinstatement and the dismissal of the hospital directors. Management responded by ordering the hospital's 361 employees to sign forms stating their compliance with all hospital regulations. Thirty employees who failed to return the forms on time were suspended. One of the workers said: “After we were suspended, we were treated like criminals. We were not free to enter the hospital and we were followed by security guards.”

Bus assembly workers in Sri Lanka picket over job losses

Workers at the WESCO bus assembling company in Boralasgamuwa, 15km south from Colombo, picketed Labor Department premises on June 4 to demand re-employment.

The company locked out 2,000 workers at the end of April. Management claimed the lockout was a temporary measure and that the plant would be reopened on May 9. It is now clear this assurance was a deliberate ploy by the company to camouflage its plans to permanently close the plant.

The three trade unions representing workers at WESCO have called on the government to take over the company, despite having supported its privatisation in 1993. Local union officials at the plant were rewarded for supporting the privatisation plan with higher salaries and other benefits.

Municipal workers strike in Bangladesh

Municipal workers in Barisal, Bangladesh, launched an indefinite strike on June 6 demanding the payment of salary arrears owed to them for the past 33 months.

The striking workers protested outside the municipal council office and dumped garbage on the steps. Sweepers hung their brooms on the gate in protest. The workers presented a letter to the Council chairman demanding the immediate payment of all back pay.

Privatisation opposed in Taiwan

Over 100 transport workers from the state-owned Taiwan Motor Transport protested outside the Ministry of Transportation and Communications office on June 4 against plans to privatise the company. Eight workers have begun a hunger strike.

Despite the opposition of workers to the sell-off, which will lead to job cuts, the trade unions have accepted it. TMTC labor union chairman Tsai Wan-hsiung said this week: “The union is not at all against the company's privatisation but only asks that workers' rights of employment will be protected in the process”.

Strengthened by the union's position a spokesman for Taiwan's Ministry of Transportation announced privatisation would proceed on July 1.

Australia and the Pacific

Australian taxi drivers protest airport levy

Taxi drivers called off a 24-hour blockade of Melbourne's Tullamarine airport last Tuesday after dozens of police moved in shortly before 6.30am. The action by about 150 drivers, which closed off drive-in access to the airport, was in response to an airport management proposal to charge cabs a $1 service fee for using the newly upgraded facilities.

Taxi drivers imposed the blockade in defiance of the Transport Workers Union (TWU) and the Victorian Taxi Association, which had already reached an agreement with the Melbourne Airport Authority to accept the fee. Taxi drivers held protests at the airport in November, when the fees were first proposed, and again in January.

The drivers, who have agreed to hold off further action so discussions can proceed over the next few days, want the complete removal of the fee.

Two workers killed in Australian mine collapse

Mineworkers Matthew Lister and Jarrod Jones, both in their early 20s, were killed on June 7 when a portion of a shaft they were working in collapsed at the Renison Bell tin mine at Zeehan, Tasmania. Jones, an experienced miner, had been with the company for about five years, while Lister was a graduate mining engineer who began work at the mine in late 1999.

The two men were working 500 metres underground carrying out an operation known as "scaling down" which involved removing potentially dangerous rocks after cave-ins. Conditions in the mine were so unstable that rescue workers could not enter the shaft to retrieve the bodies for almost 24 hours.

A number of workers had warned management that staff cuts, longer working hours and roster changes were undermining safety at the mine. The company laid-off about 80 workers last month in response to falling tin prices. Mining unions have called for an urgent inquiry into safety standards.

Guilty verdict in New Zealand picket line killing

A High Court jury in Christchurch last week found Derek Powell guilty of the manslaughter of Christine Clarke, who was killed on a picket line at Port Lyttelton in December 1999. Powell, a 52-year-old businessman, has been remanded for sentencing on June 15.

Clarke, a 45-year-old mother and port worker's wife, died of brain injuries after being struck by Powell's four-wheel drive vehicle while participating in a picket opposing the contracting out of coal loading operations at the port.

Evidence given by workers who witnessed the incident established that Powell deliberately accelerated through the picket line at the wharf entrance. Clarke, who had been standing immediately in front of the vehicle, was carried backwards and thrown to the ground by the impact, hitting her head. She died two days later in hospital.

During the eight-day trial, defense counsel argued that the picket was illegal and that Powell drove forward after being detained and attacked by picketers. The prosecution established there was no assault and said the legality of the picket was irrelevant. Powell could have easily removed himself from the situation by reversing his vehicle.

New Zealand teachers and students protest school closures

Over 100 teachers and students marched through the Wellington suburb of Wainuiomata on June 2 to the Minister of Education's electoral office, in protest against the impending closure of their schools.

Trevor Mallard, the local MP and Education Minister in the Labour-Alliance government, announced a restructuring program in May that will reduce the number of primary, intermediate and secondary schools in the district from 12 to 6 over the coming year.

Mallard claimed that the school closures and amalgamations were justified because of a projected decline in the school-age population in the Wainuiomata Valley.

The decision, however, was made against a backdrop of a severe reduction in funding for state education. Schools in working class areas such as Wainuiomata have been progressively run down over the past decade.

The government's promise to spend $NZ3 million in the next three years to refurbish the newly amalgamated schools in the area is far less than the long-term savings which will be made from the closures.

Mallard has revealed that the Wainuiomata restructuring, the most extensive in the country's history, will be used as a model for school closures elsewhere. The only regions not in line for similar cuts are wealthy areas in Auckland and the Bay of Plenty.

More arrests in New Zealand port protests

Police arrested five men on June 4, after protesters at the port of Bluff, near Invercargill, lay down in front of moving vehicles to prevent them entering the wharves. About 60 people attended the protest as picketing resumed in the long running South Island ports dispute.

The protesters were trying to prevent casual workers employed by Mainland Stevedoring from entering the port to load logs onto a Carter Holt Harvey (CHH) ship. The dispute, which began in November, is over CHH's decision to contract Mainland to carry out its port operations, bypassing local waterside workers and replacing them with casuals employed on lesser terms and conditions.

Last month a High Court ruling banned members of the Waterfront Workers Union (WWU) from organising pickets to disrupt Mainland's operations. On Monday, the WWU held a separate protest away from the port entrance while supporters from the local community carried out the picket.

Insurance workers strike in Fiji

A nationwide strike by 200 workers employed by the Colonial Life Insurance in Fiji was launched on June 2 over the terms of a new collective work agreement. Colonial announced it will not proceed with negotiations until Fiji's Permanent Secretary of Labour has viewed the draft agreement and given his opinion.

Earlier this week, Colonial management applied to the Ministry of Labour to deregister the union but the application was refused. Colonial has now applied to the industrial judicial court. The company is also withholding wages owed to the strikers.

PNG airline unions threaten to strike over back-pay

Unions representing 845 workers employed by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in Papua New Guinea have threatened to strike if the government does not pay, within 21 days, 45 million kina ($US14.49 million) in accrued entitlements owed to the workers.

The unpaid entitlements date back to December 31, 2000. The three principal aviation unions involved are the PNG Air Traffic Controllers, the Airport Fire Fighters and the Civil Aviation National Technical Staff Association. A CAA spokesman said the overdue entitlements should be paid by June 19.