The sit-in protest of the school laborers in front of the Main Hall and the Main Gate greeted students on their first day back on campus. The strike of security service laborers which progressed from Feb. 28 to March 3 ultimately ended with what the laborers called a miraculously successful settlement. On March 15, an open discussion of “Why Ewha security service laborers occupied the Main Hall” was hosted by the workers, providing details of the strike and a time for discussion regarding the core cause of the problem.
School laborers are currently hired under indirect employment, where a mediating company selects the workers on behalf of the school. It was announced that the mediating company, S1, did not provide security service, and that transition must take place in this sector in March. During the changeover, the workers demanded the new employment contract guarantee all their previous working conditions and increase employee quota where there were shortages before. When they failed to reach an agreement despite the laborers’ continuous concession, the workers occupied the second floor of the Main Hall and held a strike.
On March 15, the labor union explained how the fundamental problem lies in the indirect employment system where the employer does not directly recieve the service. They also shared that the school’s refrain from securing a sufficient number of workers was a big factor for the strike.
“I was one of only two people assigned for the big clean-up in the C-dong of International Dormitory at the end of a semester few years ago, even though the A-dong was cleaned by nearly 30 people,” recalled Yu Jae-hee, the head of Ewha branch in the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU). “The workload was immense and my coworker collapsed while cleaning, though she was only in her late 40s. She has since been paralyzed on one side.”
The company told the injured worker that she must resign before applying for the verdict that acknowledges the incident as an industrial accident. She naively did so and after two months of waiting, she was ruled out and was not qualified for the compensation.
“The company deceived her into quitting,” Yu said dryly.
After Yu confronted the housing office that she cannot possibly manage the big clean-up with only one other person the next semester, the dormitory hired 10 workers to clean up the building.
The total expense for this particular cleaning work was 330,000 won for Yu and her co-worker. The total wage paid to the 10 workers hired the next semester topped over a million won.
“Our labor was exploited so that only two of us managed a workload that turned out to be worth more than a million won,” Yu explained.
With newly constructed dormitories, 450 more students have been admitted into Hanwoori Hall C-dong and 2,400 more students in E-House last year. Yet, according Yu, there has been no increase in the number of security guards. In the eight buildings consisting E-House, only 10 workers are placed to clean the buildings. Also, the school does not have maintenance personnel who specialize in gas pipes in case of gas leakage. Instead, the gas amateur workers are instructed to examine the situation from outside and call 119 if the emergency gas detector alarm goes off. The labor union revealed that their frequent expressions of concerns for the lack of gas professionals have been answered with the school’s plan to decrease the workers.
“This fight isn’t solely about the exploited employees, but also the serious safety issue of students and faculty,” Yu said.
Starting Ewha, along with numerous student organizations in Ewha set up posters on campus to show their support for security workers’ sit-in and pressure the school to immediately guarantee sufficient workforce and wage.
“We visited the scene of workers’ sit-in in the Main Hall and showed solidarity during their assembly,” said Woo Ji-su, the president of Starting Ewha. “Cooperating with the Labor Union, we hoped to raise awareness of labor issues that is closely related to students.”
The labor union emphasized that student support largely enabled the successful settlement and hoped for their continuous concern regarding the issue.