South Korea

Trade Unions in Eastern Asia


According to Countryaah, Japan is a country located in Eastern Asia. A specific feature of the Japanese trade union movement is the company-based unions. It is mainly these who conduct collective bargaining and conclude agreements with the employer. The members of the unions cover all categories of employees; both workers, foremen and other white-collar workers. Only permanent employees have the opportunity to become members.

Another characteristic is that the trade union ombudsmen are employed by the companies and not by the trade union organizations. When a member starts working as an ombudsman for the trade union, he or she only leaves the company’s operations temporarily. Companies often encourage employees to work for the union for periods, it is considered to broaden the competence.

About 10 percent of Japan’s workers are unionized. By far the largest trade union organization is Rengo with 6.5 million members.

In terms of ideas, Rengo is a rather conservative organization and the local union representatives are sometimes criticized for having too close ties with the employers. Rengo conducts extensive trade union assistance. 80 percent of the aid goes to local unions at Japanese companies that have established themselves abroad.

Alongside Rengo, there are two more radical central organizations, Zenroren and Zenrokyo. Zenroren has 840,000 members and Zenrokyo 130,000 members. However, these two do not belong to the world union ITUC. All three central organizations have lost members over the past 20 years. In addition, there are several local unions.



Central trade unions : Rengo, Zenroren and Zenrokyo. Rengo is a member of the world union ITUC.


Most trade unions in Mongolia are members of the Confederation of Mongolian Trade Unions (CMTU), a federation created by the MPRP, formerly the only party allowed. During 1990, there was a rapid change in CMTU, which included a break with MPRP. CMTU states that it currently has around 450,000 individual members.

Internal trade union freedom has increased, it is now possible for trade unions and trade unions to leave CMTU. Another change is that it is free to form new trade unions, without special approval from the state authorities.

During the last ten years, several new independent trade unions have been formed. First out on the plane was the Confederation of Free Trade Unions (CFTU). However, the new independent organizations have not yet succeeded in challenging CMTU’s dominance.



Central trade unions: Confederation of Mongolian Trade Unions (CMTU). CMTU formerly belonged to the communist trade union “World Federation”, but is now a member of the World Trade Union ITUC. In addition, there are a number of smaller and independent trade unions, including the Confederation of Free Trade Unions (CFTU).


North Korea is one of 5 countries in East Asia. The country’s only trade unions are GFTUK, which is completely controlled by the state. The union structure is built according to the Soviet model. The trade union movement is closely linked to the state apparatus and its task is to promote production and be responsible for certain education, health care, childcare, culture, etc. There are no reports of strikes in North Korea. GFTUK is a member of the communist trade union international FVF. Contact with the trade union movement in Western Europe is non-existent. The Swedish trade union movement has never conducted any projects in North Korea.

North Korea


Central trade union organization: The country’s only trade union organization is GFTUK, which is completely controlled by the state. There is no member of the World Trade Union ITUC.


In 1986, the situation in the labor market exploded and a wave of strikes swept across the country. In just one year, the number of wildcat strikes increased from 278 to almost 4,000. In one fell swoop, the number of local unions also increased from 3,000 to 7,000. The most important demand in the militant trade union movement was wage increases. The Korean state’s response was extremely brutal. Many large workplaces became pure war zones. Violent fights broke out between union members and police. When the fog cleared, the purges began in the companies. More than 2,000 union representatives were arrested by police and nearly 5,000 were fired. For many people, repression became a personal tragedy. The detainees were imprisoned for up to a year. Of those imprisoned and dismissed, very few got their jobs back. The capital city of South Korea is Seoul.

The wave of protests in the late 1980’s reshaped the South Korean trade union movement. An important element in renewal was the formation of the new trade union central organization KCTU. The new trade union movement was primarily based on the country’s large companies, with large local unions at the shipyards and the car industry. The average size of KCTU’s local clubs is still just over 400 members. The radical student movement was also important for KCTU’s growth.

To challenge political power, members of the KCTU have taken the initiative to form two new political parties, of which the Democratic Workers’ Party, DLP, is the most well-known. However, party formation has not been a major success and the parties have received few votes in the general election.

Next to KCTU is the old trade union movement FKTU, which for a long time had strong ties to the top echelons of the South Korean state apparatus. During the 1990’s, however, an internal reform of FKTU took place. In 1997, FKTU and KCTU organized a joint general strike against the government’s proposal for increasingly harsh labor market laws. Since that action, there has been cooperation between the two central trade unions, although many differences of opinion remain.

FKTU currently reports that the organization has 26 member unions and around 740,000 individual members. KCTU has 17 affiliates and 682,000 individual members.

The contradictions between the trade unions and the government have once again intensified. Several union leaders have been imprisoned and many business leaders have acted anti-union in line with government policy. Another growing issue for trade unions is to create social protection for the growing group of employees who only have a fixed-term job or who work in the informal sector. Within KCTU, there has been a special trade union for those with insecure and insecure jobs for a few years now.

South Korea


Central trade unions : Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU) and South Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU). Both organizations belong to the World Trade Union ITUC.


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