In a currently developing situation, Bro. Jung Jae-Beom, President of Busan National University Hospital Workers Union and together with Bro. Sohn Sang-Ryang, Non-Regular Workers leader have jointly started a hunger strike since June 26 to demand for the transfer of 500 non-regular workers to regular status. As of July 24, the hunger strike has already taken place over 28 days.
Two years ago, when President Moon Jae-In was still a presidential candidate of the Democratic Party, he had pledged to implement a policy of regularising non-regular workers in all public corporations. It was a promising start when his administration announced this measure as one of the first national labour policies. It should have been a strategic solution to resolve the chronic problems faced by non-regular workers in the public sector where they long suffered from employment uncertainty and low wages.
Today, any such hopes have rapidly dissolved away. Non-regular workers are still prevailing in public corporations and their anger at the slow pace of the policy implementation has reached a boiling point. One prime example is at the Busan University Hospital.
As of June 2019, many non-regular workers of the hospital would had have their contracts expired. The Busan National University Hospital management had repeatedly delayed renewing the workers’ contracts on at least three occasions. Instead, they suddenly announced the setting up of a subsidiary company that will be responsible for the contracts of janitors, parking staff, electricians and supporting workers.
This is akin to a classic bait and switch tactic employed by companies that set up separate companies disguised as temporary work agencies to deny workers of permanent employment status and their rightful entitlements. Such deceptive outsourcing practices are strongly opposed by unions because they weaken employment relationships and harm industrial relations.
The Korean Health & Medical Workers’ Union (KHMU) saw through this tactic and quickly united behind the affected Busan National University Hospital workers. They held the first rally on 8 July in front of the hospital with 900 union members in attendance to collectively condemn the hospital management’s harmful practice.
Sister Na Sun-Ja, KHMU President, argued “We have about 5,000 non-regular workers in 15 national and public hospitals in Korea. Until now, only 15 non-regular workers were actually transferred to regular status. It means the incumbent government’s labour policy has loopholes for hospitals to delay the transfer. Non-regular hospital workers play an essential role to help the hospital deliver services that deal with the life of patients. These hospital workers must be secured regular status; otherwise the lives of patients will be at stake.”
The civic society and unions in Busan city has embarked on a Signature Campaign in support of the Busan National University Hospital Union’s fight. From July 2 to 5, up to 3,300 workers of Busan National University Hospital Union have signed the petition to transfer non-regular workers to regular status. The non-regular workers of Busan National University Hospital initiated a relay Hunger Strike since July 6. Every day, they take turns rotating to stop eating while not neglecting their work duties. They also assembled every Friday for a rally to maintain their demand.
The civic society in Busan also supported the cause by holding a press conference and called for a meeting with the CEO of Busan National University Hospital but there is no official response to date. On July 22, the KHMU sent an open letter to Busan National University Hospital’s management and called for a meeting on to be held today on July 24. They also planned to hold another big rally with 500 workers in front of Busan National University Hospital Union.
Sister Na Sun-Ja said, “The management must take seriously ultimatum notice from KHMU and come to the negotiation table without delay.”
UNI Apro Regional Secretary, Christopher Ng, recalls his memories of past KHMU hunger strikes, “The KHMU’s strong commitment for workers’ rights, especially their struggle to protect non-regular workers, is always highly respected. The union movement must be united between the regular workers and non-regular workers to overcome the current crisis of casualisation of labour.”
Adrian Durtschi, Head of UNICARE sector, UNI Global Union, also sends his solidarity remarks, saying, “UNICare supports the KHMU-Busan National University Hospital Union fight, because it affects the standard of care for patients, and more importantly the basic labour rights due to the non-regular workers.”
As of July 26, the hunger strike has entered into its 30th day. Due to complications from health problems, Bro. Sohn Sang-Ryang had to end his hunger strike struggle earlier on July 11 but the spirit of his determination is carried on by Bro. Jung Jae-Beom who is persisting with the action.
The article was edited on July 26 to include additional information on Bro. Sohn’s condition and photos. A correction was also made to Sis Na Sun-Ja’s name and to the hospital’s full name in English .