Janitors win wage increase, but issue remains under dispute
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Janitors win wage increase, but issue remains under dispute
  • Lee Min-jeong
  • 승인 2012.05.11 17:39
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Janitors from Ewha, Korea University, Korea University Medical Center, Kyung Hee University, and Yonsei University hold joint press confrence on April 24 in front of Hongik University.
University janitors’ struggle for higher wages and better labor conditions in universities has reached a solution agreed upon by both employers and janitors  on April 19. Six branches from the Korean Public & Social Services and Transportation Workers’ Union (KPTU) from Ewha Womans University, Hongik University, Korea University, Korea University Medical Center, Kyung Hee University, and Yonsei University held a joint press conference in front of Hongik University on April 24 and announced the outcome of negotiations. The conclusion came one year after the first demonstration by university janitors at the beginning of the spring semester in 2011.
About 1,000 janitors affiliated with five of the KPTU university branches, except Hongik University, will receive a minimum wage of 5,100 won per hour which reaches 1,065,900 won per month, a 10.9 percent increase. Moreover, 60,000 won will be paid for meals and a 150,000 won bonus will be given on holidays.
The seeds of the first strike in March 2011 were planted in 2010. Bargaining for improved working conditions has been held more than 12 times since then. However, the opinions of the universities, service companies, and employees were not reconcilable. Since the university only chose the janitorial companies, the contract between janitors and the university remained indirect. University authorities, therefore, shifted responsibility for janitors’ welfare to the janitorial company while janitors pointed to universities as the main agents of employment.
The first strike on March 8, 2011 by 860 janitors from Ewha, Korea University, Korea University Medical Center, and Yonsei University, demanded a wage increase from 4,320 won per hour to 5,180 won. The cleaning company stated that since wages were already raised by 5.1 percent in 2011, the minimum wage of 5,180 won would mean a 20.1 percent pay increase in just one year. The second strike on March 14, 2011 demanded an adjusted wage of 4,800 won per hour, but it also failed to reach an agreement. Since then, each KPTU branch began holding individual strikes. Ewha janitors started their demonstration by occupying the Main Hall, with students on March 23, 2011. As a result, three branches including Ewha, Korea University Medical Center, and Yonsei University succeeded in making a contract within a few weeks that raised the wage to 4,600 won per hour.
But many janitors still face poor labor conditions.
“Our ultimate goal is to change temporary positions to permanent positions,” said Cha Kun-chul, the vice president of Ewha Womans University branch.
“We will keep asking the university authorities to translate the machinery maintenance engineers into permanent positions first, as Ewha still treats them as part-time workers compared to other universities. Moreover, by canceling the contract with cleaning companies and directly hiring the janitors, about 20 percent of unnecessary spending can be reduced.”
As a result, collective bargaining by the KPTU was launched on Nov. 9, 2011. After six months of struggle, the KPTU finally accepted the terms of the April 19 agreement.
“This conclusion is meaningful, since universities who used to sit silent and responded passively changed their attitudes to be actively involved in actions to solve the problems,” Cha said.
“This means the universities are graudally changing to take responsibility for the janitors.”
However, issues at Hongik University remain unsolved. Since last year’s mass dismissal and reinstatement of 170 janitors at Hongik, the university faces lingering problems over bargaining rights. The university has two separate labor unions for janitors and guards, and conflicts between the two remain unresolved since the single window system allows only one party to raise their voice. As a result, Hongik University was excluded from the terms of the new agreement.
“Members from six branches will hold a sit-in protest starting in May 9 in front of Hongik University until the problem is solved,” Cha said. “We are also planning to expand our collective bargaining to other universities in the Seoul region including Dongduk Women’s University and Duksung Women’s University based on our success,”
Some students showed interest toward the result of collective bargaining.
“Though it is selfish, the strike was inconvenient to me since the dirty and unpleasnt toilets were disgusting,” a student who wished to stay anonymous said. “But as the demonstration got longer, it made me understand the janitors’ harsh stance. Now I feel relieved to see improvements."

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