Hankyoreh - 28 April 2022
S. Korea presses US to ratify key international labor conventions
By Park Tae-woo
“What is the US government’s plan for ratifying the International Labor Organization’s core conventions?”
This was a question the Korean government posed to the US government at a meeting of the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement Labor Affairs Council, held for the first time in nine years on Tuesday.
Protection of labor rights in free trade agreements is the duty of all state parties. Last year, South Korea finally ratified three of the conventions it had promised to when joining the International Labor Organization (ILO) 30 years prior. Accordingly, it’s become a much more active player when it comes to protecting labor rights.
With the Korean government last year having ratified three conventions, including one prohibiting the use of forced labor, it has now ratified seven of eight core ILO conventions. Meanwhile, the US has ratified only two.
In response, the US side reportedly said, “Although the core conventions ratified are few in number, basic labor rights are being protected through US labor-related laws."
South Korea’s Ministry of Employment and Labor announced on Wednesday that the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) Labor Affairs Council was held via video conference on Tuesday and Wednesday to share the results of the implementation of the KORUS Labor Chapter and to discuss ways to strengthen cooperation.
The 19th chapter of the KORUS details the two governments’ obligations to protect labor rights, including the freedom of association, effective recognition of collective bargaining rights, and elimination of employment and occupational discrimination. It also stipulates that, in order to check the progress and implementation of these obligations, a meeting of the Labor Affairs Council can be convened.
The inaugural meeting of the Labor Affairs Council, held at the director-level of the two governments’ labor agencies, was held in 2013. That makes this year’s meeting the first in nine years. Since the inauguration of the Biden administration, the US government has been emphasizing the strengthening of basic labor rights.
The Office of the United States Trade Representative’s 2022 Trade Policy Agenda states that the US is working with its trade partners “to support workers’ rights and stop the global race to the bottom.” It seems that the convening of the Labor Affairs Council with Korea was related to this.
At the Labor Affairs Council, the US asked Korea about the arrest of union officials through the Criminal Act and the Assembly and Demonstration Act. In November of last year, US Trade Representative Katherine Tai met with Labor Minister An Kyung-duk and expressed concern about the detention of Yang Kyung-soo, chair of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions.
In addition, the US requested information sharing on measures to promote the protection of labor rights of migrant workers on Korean deep-sea fishing boats.
“This [meeting] will be a milestone toward the common goal of promoting labor rights,” said Noh Kil-jun, director general of the Ministry of Employment and Labor’s International Cooperation Bureau, who represented Korea at the meeting.
“Today – after a decade of working together under the United States-Korea Free Trade Agreement – we begin a new chapter of deeper collaboration to strengthen and protect labor rights in our two nations, and across our shared supply chains,” said Thea Lee, deputy undersecretary for international affairs in the US Department of Labor.
“The Labor Affairs Council is an important vehicle for productive discussions and continued collaboration,” Lee added.