Court revokes legal status of progressive teachers' union

SEOUL, June 19 (Yonhap) -- A local court ruled Thursday that a progressive teachers' union is not a legitimate labor group because it allows membership of fired teachers.

In October, the Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union (KTU) filed a lawsuit with the Seoul Administrative Court against a government decision to outlaw the KTU due to its repeated refusal to deny membership of fired teachers.

The 60,000-strong KTU currently has as members 22 teachers who were sacked for signing statements against the former Lee Myung-bak government in 2009.

In a ruling statement, the court said the decision by the Ministry of Employment and Labor is not against the Constitution.

"The article 2 of the law on teachers' unions, on which the ministry decision is based, is not against the Constitution, and its enforcement ordinance does not go beyond the limitation of the law, either," the court said.

"Membership of dismissed teachers undermines the independence and autonomy of a teachers' union, which eventually cripples school education and causes damage to students," it said.

Despite the government's decision, the union has maintained its legal status as it won an injunction from the same court against the ministry's move.

Should Thursday's ruling be upheld by the top court, the KTU would be prohibited from using the title "labor union" and engaging in legitimate negotiations with school authorities. The union's 78-member full-time staff members should also return to teaching jobs at school.

The education ministry said it will soon send official documents requiring city and provincial educational offices to take follow-up measures, including returning union staff members to schools, vacating the government-subsidized union office and banning the union from deducting membership fees from unionized teachers' monthly wages.

The KTU instantly called a news conference and vowed to appeal the ruling.

"We'll immediately file an appeal against the ruling and take other legal measures," the union told reporters, adding that it will embark on activities to revise the law.

"We have worked for the past 25 years to prevent the regression of education and will continue to do so," it stressed.

The ruling is likely to draw fierce protests from educational and civic groups supporting the KTU.

The Workers' Group of the International Labor Organization earlier adopted a statement saying that the Seoul government ignored the United Nations body's repeated recommendations to let the trade union make its own decision on whether to recognize membership of dismissed educators.

The ruling drew mixed responses from political parties.

The main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) said the court decision is "shameful."

"This court decision that ignored the constitutional value and concerns of the international community will be remembered as a shameful political ruling that triggered another feud and regressed the value of the times," Rep. Han Jeoung-ae, spokesperson of the party, told reporters. "The NPAD will join the KTU's long journey to regain its status as a legitimate trade union," she said.

The ruling Saenuri Party, however, said the ruling is "very sensible" and "legitimate."

"This is a very sensible and legitimate ruling that proved once again that the Republic of Korea is a law-abiding country," Rep. Kim Hyun-sook, spokeswoman of the party, said in a press statement. "We ask the union to humbly accept the ruling."

Founded in 1998, the progressive teachers' union became a legitimate organization the following year under the liberal government led by President Kim Dae-jung and has grown into the country's second-largest teachers' union.

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