Korean Health and Medical Workers’ Union achieves breakthrough with general strike

Korean health workers held a two-day general strike in order to bring the government to the negotiating table, asking for safe staffing and fair remuneration. The strike, the largest in the health sector since 2004, saw the participation of 60,000 members

July 19, 2023 by Peoples Health Dispatch
Korean health workers strike
(Photo: KHMU)

The Korean Health and Medical Workers’ Union (KHMU) secured important advances during a two-day general strike organized on July 13 and 14. While the union made the decision to halt the general strike after two days, and focus instead on on-site industrial action and negotiations to better safeguard the well-being of patients, the KHMU is determined to ensure that the government fulfills its main demands. These include the institutionalization of a nurse-to-patient ratio of 1:5 to ensure patient safety, an increase in the number of physicians, and fair remuneration for workers who put their lives on the line during COVID-19.

The strike saw the participation of 60,000 members from 140 workplaces across 122 branches, making it the largest strike in the health sector since 2004, when workers fought for a five-day working week. Over 90% of the workers expressed support for the industrial action.

Read: Health workers in South Korea prepare for nationwide strike

Following the launch of the general strike, Na Soon-ja, president of KHMU, met with Vice-Minister of Health and Welfare Park Min-soo. This meeting led to concrete assurances from the Ministry to the KHMU that further bargaining would take place in good faith, which contributed to the decision to suspend the general strike.

The KHMU’s general strike led to even more support from the public for the health workers’ demands. According to KHMU’s press statement, during the strike, “public sentiment grew more vocal in reproaching the government for failing to fulfill its commitments and seeming passive in confronting the challenges.”

The broad support the strike received from the public and its success in bringing the Ministry to the negotiating table is the result of months of mobilization by the KHMU. Since the beginning of 2023, the union has engaged in various activities on an almost daily basis to advocate for their demands. Union activists participated in joint actions with other workers, while the trade union implemented an ambitious education program for its members, including one-day education sessions and industrial general strike schools. Workers also convened in a massive rally on June 8, building momentum towards the strike.

“The KHMU will continue to fight against and push the government to present a practical and forward-looking solution, while joining in genuine dialogue and negotiations,” said the trade union when announcing the end of the general strike.

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