Saturday, October 21, 2006

PRIVATISATION – Korean style

‘Sacked hotel workers – Renaissance Hotel, Seoul, South Korea’

Whilst over in Korea visiting my new family I was emailed with details of the above workers dispute with a major multinational hotel group whose name will be familiar to many of us in the UK. Marriott hotels, to be precise it is the Renaissance Seoul Hotel.

I decided that whilst in Seoul I would drop by and see if I could chat to these workers and see if there was anything they felt I could do for them as a trade unionist living in London.

My wife (Eunhee) did have a detailed plan laid out for me on where were to go in Seoul, yet by the end of the day I can promise you that she thoroughly enjoyed her new role as unofficial UNISON translator and international trade union liaison for Korean trade unions!

The story is all too familiar one for trade unions in this country. Outsourcing, (when did privatisation become outsourcing…..did they really believe that by calling it outsourcing we would welcome it?) I digress, back to the sacked Renaissance hotel workers.

We turned up outside the hotel and to my dismay it looked like we had missed them, I took a picture outside the hotel and turned for one last look when I noticed a group of women sitting on a large mat next to a van. I quickly walked up to them and launched into a short speech unfortunately in English. The were taking a noodle break and were a little bemused or maybe frightened when a large bald headed man wearing a UNISON rugby shirt started speaking to them in English. I was saved by Eunhee, who quickly put them at ease (if anyone can be at ease talking to me?) quickly explaining that I had heard from a trade union colleague about the dispute and that I belonged to a trade union and was eager to speak with them.

What followed was humbling but incredibly powerful experience for me. They quickly as if by magic provided a small fold away chair for me to sit on as my attempts to sit cross legged met with fits of laughter and concern that I had suffered a serious physical injury!

They explained that their jobs had been outsourced and the Hotel had used all sorts of bully boy tactics to intimidate them, they are all over 50 years old and all had been arrested at least twice by the police on the say of the hotel. How could this be happening? Sadly trade unions still have a long way to go in Korea. Although more attention is focused understandably on North Korea, Trade Unions in South Korea are having a difficult time and belonging to a trade union and becoming an activist comes with a serious health warning! These women have taken their case to court and won! The outsourcing breached legislation yet despite the court order to reinstate them they are still unemployed. They are not getting any financial assistance, so they having to rely on friends and family.
I asked how long they would wait and they are clear they are there for the duration no matter what the Hotel tries to do!
They are being supported by Lee, Ok-Soon (Chair) Korean Federation of Private Service Workers’ Union (KFPSWU); they rang her and put me on the phone (they said she spoke English). I was enthusiastically extolling the virtues of the sacked workers and what I would like to try and do back in London when she managed to interrupt me to say could I email her as it had been such a long time since she had spoken English! Luckily Eunhee took the phone, explained who I was, that I was relatively harmless and would email her on my return to the UK.

Back in London I made contact with Ok-Soon (KFPSWU) asking for more details. I would love to be able to see messages of support sent to them and emails sent to the Hotel and Government asking them to negotiate with the trade union. I would like to see some financial aid for the sacked workers and build links with their trade union. I would hope that Trade Unions in Uk do not use Marriott Hotels whilst this dispute is ongoing?
That is my challenge, if you read this article and have any ideas suggestions or want to support the workers then email me directly at

I see that they have published the pictures of my visit which you can see on their blog site at
John Burgess

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