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Article originally appeared August 14, 2009 in The Hankyoreh, a major newspaper in South Korea.


Court orders international guitar maker to reinstate its employees

South Korea’s court of appeals has determined that the mass firing of Cort employees was illegal. The court says that it was an injustice for the international guitar company that had enjoyed ten year’s worth of profits to fire its workers en masse due to a single year’s worth of losses. The laborers have been fighting for their reinstatement for 2 years and 4 months.

The Seoul High Court ruled against the complainant on August 13, and said that because Cort is not in an urgent financial situation it is throwing out the company’s lawsuit against the National Labor Relations Commission, which has ordered the company to reinstate the employees.

The court said, “Cort suffered losses for the first time in 2006, however, it had enjoyed profits until that year, and because the market share the company holds in the world guitar market remains at 30 percent, it seems that it has not lost its competitiveness.” The court also said, “The company’s debt ratio of 37 percent is relatively lower than that of the industry’s average debt ratio of 168.35 percent.”

The court added, “Workers that remained have been compensated for overtime work, and managerial wages, including the president’s salary, increased after the mass firing.” The court concluded, “Based on these facts, we rule that the mass firing was illegal.”

Cort enjoyed profits totaling 80 billion Won between 1996 and 2007, despite suffering a loss in 2006. In April 2007, the company fired 56 of its employees out of its total workforce of 160 and had cited a 0.85 billion Won loss in 2006 as the primary reason.

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Article below originally appeared May 6, 2009 in The Hankyoreh.


Labor criticizes recent police arrests for last year’s incidents as “police ignore special facets of the labor-management dispute”

Police and prosecution’s investigations of labor-management disputes have generated criticism from labor that argues that the authorities are treating laborers as criminals.

The Korean Metal Workers Union (KMWU) Cor-Tek branch issued a statement on Tuesday, saying, “Prosecutors suddenly indicted 19 union members who participated in last year’s factory occupation and sit-in demonstration.” The union added, “Prosecutors are conducting an unreasonable investigation because two leaders of that occupation have already been punished by the court.”

Cor-Tek, the international guitars and basses maker headquartered in Germany, caused labor strife last year when it decided to close its Korean factory located in Dungchon neighborhood of Seoul and move it to China. On November 25, 2008, 23 union members of Cor-Tek occupied the Korean factory and held a sit-in strike, however, within four hours, they were round up by the police. Two leaders of the union were sentenced to one-year imprisonment, which was then suspended.

Prosecutors recently indicted the other 19 union members on charges of housebreaking with weapons. The crime of housebreaking with weapons carries a minimum prison sentence of one year.

Sung Sei-kyung, the chief of education and public relations department and a senior official of the KMWU, says, “The union members thought the case was over, and we feel the indictments are preposterous.” Lawyer Park Jae-eun who is working on behalf of the union says, “The indictments seem excessive because the prosecutor usually hands out summary indictments for these kinds of cases.”

However, labor says that there have been many similar cases recently. The prosecution arrested two leaders of KMWU’s Donghee AUTO Co. in-house subcontracting branch on April 21, four months after they participated in a demonstration held last December. Donghee AUTO Co. supplies parts for Morning compact cars as a subcontractor of Kia Motors.

The leader of KMWU’s Donghee AUTO Co. in-house subcontracting branch says, “Three union leaders have already been sentenced by the court in connection with last December’s demonstration in front of the factory.” He added, “However, police suddenly came to the union office in April and arrested the other two leaders. It seemed that police were able to obtain an arrest warrant for a different reason, after they failed to get the warrant for the demonstration in front of factory.”

Another senior official of KMWU, Park Jeom-kyu says, “Police used to recognize special facets of the labor-management dispute, however, now a days, they treat laborers as criminals.”

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