Firefighters have been denied the right to unionise and collectively bargain in several countries across the Asia Pacific region, despite the International Labour Organization (ILO) repeatedly affirming their right to form and join unions of their own. Across the region, firefighters have fought to attain and exercise these rights.
In Korea, laws preventing uniformed officers and those involved in matters of national security from unionising have been resisted by firefighters for over fifteen years. This struggle began in 2006, when firefighters initiated a campaign for their trade union rights to be recognised. The following year, they formed the Fire Fighting Development Conference (FFDC), which affiliated with Public Services International (PSI) in 2012.
PSI congratulates the Korean firefighters on their historic victory...
In December 2020, Korea amended its domestic labour laws in order to ratify the ILO core conventions, and the right to organise and collectively bargain for firefighters was finally recognised. The law came into force on 1 July, with the FFDC relaunched as the Firefighters Division of KGEU (Korean Government Employees Union) on 6 July. Mr. Hae-Gune Park, former Chair of the FFDC, is now Head of the Division.
PSI congratulates the Korean firefighters on their historic victory, along with the many thousands of public sector workers who stood by their side in achieving this, often risking repercussions for doing so.
Thousands of firefighters have now joined the union, which is federated with the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), marking further growth for the union movement in Korea as it continues to build the power needed to create a more just society for all workers.
PSI has supported firefighters across the Asia Pacific region to challenge restrictions on the right to unionise. We have raised cases at the ILO and, in 2018, negotiated the ‘Guidelines on decent work in public emergency services’, which again affirmed the right of firefighters and other emergency service workers to unionise and bargain.
Japanese firefighters who have also been denied these rights were among the first to congratulate the Korean firefighters on their victory. We hope this will inspire them—and other firefighters in the region—to continue their struggle for decent work and trade union rights.