Are Women-Only Trade Unions Necessary in South Korea: A Study of Women Workers’ Struggles in Korea’s Labor Market Comment

Kong, Gina | January 1, 2009

Recently, in response to discriminatory laws, a gendered labor market, and male-dominated unions, Korean women workers organized women- only trade unions. This comment argues that the strategy of Korean women workers to unionize apart from mainstream labor unions is a necessary and positive movement. First, the comment examines the circumstances in which the organization of Korean women’s trade unions became necessary to respond to the discrimination and mistreatment of women by the Korean labor market and the inadequacy of mainstream trade unions to protect women workers. Second, the comment examines how the Korean women’s trade unions have been improving the working conditions of Korean women and, at the same time, influencing society’s views of women. However, despite some of the positive changes in labor laws and various industries, the ongoing passage of laws unfavorable to working women and the gendered market system’s discriminatory response to these laws support the need for and continued growth of women’s trade unions in South Korea. Finally, the comment concludes with research from other countries demonstrating that successful companies with high profit margins actively hire and advance a large number of female employees and executives. Thus, the comment proposes that in their efforts to overcome Korean companies’ cultural prejudices against working women and improve the working conditions of Korean women, the Korean women’s trade unions should focus on broader social issues pertaining to women’s status and emphasize the importance of gender equality in the workforce to strengthen Korea’s market.