The dispute began on June 30 after E-land laid off more than 900 part-time workers to bypass a law preventing discrimination of temporary workers.T he firings violate provisions of a collective agreement between E-Land and unions, which state that those employed over 18 months would not face lay-offs. Many of the 900 workers were very close to two years service employment.
The law, which went into effect on July 1 amid mounting calls for revision from the labor community, worried about misuse of the law, requires companies to turn part-time employees who have been working for more than two years into regular workers and end discrimination toward them.
Opponents have long feared companies would choose to lay off experienced irregular workers and re-hire them as outsourced workers to escape immediate punishment for breaking the law and avoiding financial burdens to improve their job security. The E-land dispute widely is seen as a test for the law's future.
The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), a major umbrella labor group to which the E.Land union belongs, threw its support behind the striking workers, saying that its leadership will join in the protest.
"E-land, an anti-labor and antisocial company, is no longer qualified to operate in this country," Lee Suk-haing, chairman of the KCTU, told reporters earlier this month. "We will launch a full-scale campaign to boycott E-land stores to oust the company from the market," Lee said.
“The KCTU has consistently asserted that the new bill would lead to more irregular workers because the law, which was suppose to give permanent status to irregular workers, has left the door open to evade such measures, such as outsourcing and termination of contracts,” said the labour federation.
"It is impossible to engage in fair negotiations when the unionists are threatening the companies' businesses," an E.Land official said, requesting anonymity.
Recent statistics by the South Korean government reveal the number of irregular workers is growing. A 2007 study found that a full 35.5% of Korea’s 15 million workforce is in this category.
The following is from The Hankyoreh (South Korea)
Police break up second E-Land sit-in
Unionized workers of E-Land Group were once again dispersed by police intervention yesterday, after staging their second sit-in at one of the retail chain’s discount outlets. The law enforcement’s move has prompted an outcry from protesters, who pledge to further step up the struggle until their demands are met.
The Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency dispatched approximately 5,000 riot police into one of E-Land Group’s retail outlets, New Core’s Kim’s Club in Seocho, dispersing 197 E-Land Group unionists who had staged the three-day sit-in beginning July 29. Those on strike are unionized workers of New Core, an affiliate of E-Land Group.
Unionized workers at E-Land began striking at the end of last month, after management laid-off approximately 900 non-regular workers, most of whom are female cashiers, in advance of the new non-regular workers’ protection law, which went into effect on July 1. The law stipulates that all non-regular workers be converted to regular status after they have worked for a company for a period of two years and gives companies a two year grace period in which to accomplish this task. Before the law went into effect, several companies moved to outsource their workers, prompting an outcry from unions.
Labor union members convened a press conference immediately after police action commenced and pledged to continue their strike. “Police should not have gotten involved in the labor strikes at E-Land, as it has little effect on the nation’s industries,” the union said.
The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), an umbrella labor organization to which E-Land unionists belong, held an emergency meeting and decided to stage concurrent strikes at E-Land stores across the nation on August 5, August 11 and August 19 to support the E-Land workers.
It also plans to organize a 1,000-strong demonstration team made up of non E-Land unionists to spearhead a sit-in in front of the outlet until the disputes are resolved. “We will hold a meeting to deal with the E-land case on August 21 and plan to step up the protest,” said Lee Sok-haeng, head of the KCTU.
Labor and management of E-Land Group restarted talks later in the afternoon on July 31, following the police crackdown, 12 days after the first round of negotiations had broken down on July 19. But they failed to find common ground and the talks ended without any progress.