E-mart in trouble for thwarting efforts to form union
By Yi Whan-woo
Rep. Jang Ha-na of the main opposition Democratic Untied Party (DUP) said on Jan. 16 that E-mart supported by the Ministry of Employment and Labor spied on workers at the retail giant.
Both E-mart and the ministry said Monday they were conducting internal investigations to find out whether the allegation was true.
In a press release, the liberal lawmaker said E-mart took measures against its workers under the instruction of its parent company, Shinsegae Group. Jang added the group distributed a manual in June 2011 to its affiliates listing ways to prevent workers from organizing or joining unions.
The government in July 2011 allowed workers at firms to form multiple unions.
Jang claimed that Shinsegae Group has systematically suppressed workers’ rights to unionize at E-Mart and other affiliates, and had illegally monitored them.
She said E-mart had compiled a list of its employees at its stores throughout the country who were suspected of contacting the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) or the Federation of Korean Trade Unions, the country’s two largest umbrella labor groups. The KCTU is also known for its political affinity with liberal parties.
E-mart also fired a number of its workers illegally, according to the lawmaker. She claims they were laid off for poor performance, but added that a number of them were on the list compiled by the company.
“Classifying a worker by his or her performance is against human rights, and the fact such a policy was used to fire an employee should not be tolerated,” she said.
The DUP lawmaker said that in 2011 a ministry official informed a manager-level employee at E-mart about a possible move by company workers in their 20s and 30s to form a union supported by the KCTU.
The lawmaker claimed such surveillance was illegal and called for a thorough investigation.
“The country guarantees workers’ freedom to organize, but E-mart now only has one labor union with three members,” said Park Gi-il, an aide to Jang.
Shinsegae spokesman Hwang Jong-soon said, “There is nothing we can confirm at the moment.”
“We’re conducting our internal investigation, and that’s all I can say.”
The labor ministry offered a similar response.
“We’ve been working to verify the allegation since last week, and haven’t figured out who is involved in the case,” a ministry spokesman said. “We should be able to come up with an answer by next week.”