Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Victory Against Work Place Sexual Harassment after a long Drawn Battle

Ms. Park who has worked for 14 years at a subsidiary company of Hyundai motors at Asan, Korea was dismissed from her job after she complained about sexual harassment in her workplace. Ms. Park in a remarkable effort to get justice went the distance that many others had not dared to go. She held a Sit-In protest of 197 days demanding for the punishment of the perpetrators and for her reinstatement. During those 197 days, she held Sit-In protest not only at the factory gate but also in front of the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family. While she was on the Sit-In protest, she was repeated assaulted by company hired guards at the both venues and as a result of the assaults she even had to spend four weeks in hospital.

In the support of Ms. Park’s resolute struggle against Sexual Harassment and violation of workers’ right, Korean Metal Workers Union and NGA:SF Korea (Network for Glocal Activism: School of Feminism) decided to initiate an international campaign which resulted in a press conference in front of the headquarters of Hyundai Motors on 25th November 2011.
Press Conference in front of Hyundai Headquarters

The press conference was supported by and the public statement issued was signed by New Socialist Initiative (Delhi Chapter, India), Stree Mukti Sangathan (India), Women's Global Network for Reproductive Rights, Asian Pacific Workers Solidarity Links, Nodutdol for Korean Community Development (New York, USA), Sahgnnoksoo (Seattle, Washington, USA), Change to Win (USA), Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment-GABRIELA (USA), Center for Workers Education (India), Women Workers Lead (India), MAKABAYAN (The Philippines), Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research (The Philippines), Workers Assistance Center (The Philippines), General Federation of Nepalese Trade Unions (Nepal), Qingdao Workers Hotline (China), Labour Action China (Hong Kong), Asian Monitor Resource Center (Hong Kong), National Free Trade Union (Sri Lanka), Thai Labour Campaign (Thailand), Serve the People Association (Taiwan), Salud Intergral para la Mujer (Mexico), Red Genero y Economia (Mexico), Migrant Workers Trade Union (Korea), International Metalworkers' Federation, International Union of Food, Building and Wood Workers' International, International Trade Union Confederation, Metal workers union (Slovakia), Federasi Serikat Pekerja Metal (Indonesia), National Union of Metalworkers (South Africa), United Auto Workers, Australian Manufacturing Workers Union. 

Letters of protests were also sent by various organizations to The Ministry of Employment and Labor, The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, The Hyundai Motors demanding reinstatement of Ms. Park and that the perpetrators be brought to book.

To mount more international pressure on Hyundai Motors and Korean Government a call for Global Action day was announced and demonstrations were held outside Hyundai Motors dealership in various countries on 2nd December 2011. In United States alone, from New York to Los Angeles, 75 demonstrations were held outside Hyundai motors dealership. Unfortunately, the Indian Trade Union centres did not pay heed to the global call for solidarity nor did Hyundai Motors Employee Union, India undertake any solidarity action.

Finally, after this long drawn battle by Ms. Park and the international solidarity campaign, The Ministry of Employment and Labor (Korea) was forced to intervene. 

The Ministry of Employment and Labor considered the mental trauma that Ms. Park underwent as an industrial accident. The ministry further decided that it would pay her medical expenses she incurred during her protest. It is the first time in the history of modern Korea that the victim's mental pain after sexual harassment on the factory floor shop has been regarded as an industrial accident. 

Hyundai Globis (the logistic wing of Hyndai Motor), Hyungjin Company (the sub-contractor of Hyundai Motors), Korea Metal Workers' Union and Ms. Park signed an agreement according to which Hyungjin Company has: 
  • To dismiss the offender by 31th January, 2012 and has to reinstate Ms. Park by 1st February, 2012.
  • To pay wages for the months that she was unfairly dismissed.
  • To prohibit any gendered disadvantages at the work place.
  • To prepare comprehensive measures to prevent recurrence of sexual harassment.
  • To set up the program to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.
Ms. Park had worked at a factory of Hyundai Motor in Asan, Korea since 1997. She had renewed her labor contract with different in-house subcontractors every two year. During those 14 years the in-house subcontractor’s business name and president changed 9 times, while she continued to be employed in the same job. A team leader and the on site supervisor of Kumyang Logistics (the in-house subcontractor then) began sexually harassing her from April 2009. They repeatedly used offending language of sexual nature and made profane remarks at her, and also assaulted her physically including rubbing her shoulder and groping her from behind in working hours. They also repeatedly demanded for sexual gratification over the phone. Not able to withstand the continuous harassment she, eventually, shared about the harassment with her colleagues. Once the news spread within the factory, on 9th December 2009, a Human Resource Committee meeting was held. The Committee concluded that she be suspended for 6 months for “carelessly tarnishing the image of the company”. What was worse was that one of the perpetrator attended the Human Resource Committee meeting in the capacity of a member in the committee. However, after a retrial, the Committee replace the suspension order with 3 months pay cut. 

In defiance of the unjustified action by the Human Resource Committee, Ms. Park petitioned the National Human Rights Commission of Korea on 10th September 2010, whereupon, on September 20, 2010, the Human Resources Committee of the company decided to dismiss her on disciplinary grounds stating that “it would be the socially accepted view that it was impossible to continue the employment.” 

On 14th October 2010, Ms. Park started picketing alone at the main gate of the factory. but was physically assaulted by about 30 Hyundai managers and security guards, which caused her to be hospitalized for four weeks. Later she resumed her Sit-In protest in front of the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family and continued for 197 days. 

In the meantime on 4th November 2010, the in-house subcontractor, Kumyang Logistics, reported a closure of the business. And another company, Hyungjin Company, stepped. As is the usual practice, all workers working under Kumyang Logistics were transferred to Hyunjin Company barring Ms. Park. 

Then on the 14th of January 2011, the National Human Rights Commission of Korea reached a ruling that her case clearly involved “sexual harassment at work” and that her dismissal constituted an “unfavorable measure against the victim of sexual harassment regarding her employment status” and urged the employer and the two perpetrators to compensate her for mental and physical damages. But the judgment was ignored and no particular action was taken. A officer of the Ministry of Employment and Labor stated that they can not intervene because Kumyang closed their business. And another officer of the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family stated that they can not intervene either because their business is not to seek a resolution but impart training in gender equality. Even though Hyundai Motor is the primary contractor, it strongly denies that it requires to own up any responsibility. Furthermore, Hyundai Motor distributed an official inspection paper to the members of the National Assembly of Korea which states that Ms. Park is a divorcee and a known trouble maker. 

Ms. Park did not retract from her struggle despite the tremendous odds against her and the enormous mental trauma that she was subjected to. 

Ms. Park’s relentless struggle has not only forced the Government to intervene and push Hyundai Motors to take cognizance of work place sexual harassment but also has forced the Trade Unions to take note of work place sexual harassment with far more sincerity than they had done before. In December 2011, A Korean Confederation of Trade Union (KCTU) commissioned study found that 40% of female workers undergo sexual harassment on the factory floor shop, and out of the 40% majority are irregular workers and workers hired by in-house subcontractors.


Antoine Lockhart said...

What a great news! Sexual harassment has truly made its way to the spotlight. There was a point in time when it had become more than a celebrity.

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