In the 23rd hybrid meeting of the EU Domestic Advisory Group (DAG) under the EU-Korea Free Trade Agreement (FTA), which was the first EU DAG meeting after the Civil Society Forum with the Korean counterparts, all participants underlined the importance of the ratification of three fundamental ILO conventions by the Republic of Korea in April 2021. This ratification by the Korean government sends an important message to the other countries of the Asian region, providing a strong incentive for them to ratify the ILO core conventions at an early stage of their engagement in FTA negotiations with the EU.
The meeting of the EU-Korea DAG, which took place on 16 November 2021, allowed for an exchange of views and update on the latest developments regarding the implementation of the Trade and Sustainable Development (TSD) chapter under the EU-Korea FTA and the follow-up of the EU-Korea panel experts report.
Karen Curtis, Deputy Director of the International Labour Standards Department at the ILO, mentioned that a number of factors had shaped the right momentum for ratification in Korea, pointing out the important role played by the DAG during the Civil Society Forum.
Even though the process took a few years, it had been bearing fruit giving rise to the ratification of three fundamental ILO Conventions: C29 on Forced Labour, C87 on Freedom of Association and C98 on the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining.
Ms. Curtis also said:
The ratification demonstrates political commitment and a pledge to ensure these standards at national level, regardless of administration. It is also a significant leadership message to non-ratifiers.
Tom Jenkins, president of the EU-Korea DAG added:
The Korea case is ground-breaking in advancing sustainable development through trade deals. The EU DAG will continue to monitor progress closely to ensure that Korean labour law fully meets international standards, as we indeed also expect from the EU and its Member States. This case sets an example for other countries, notably Vietnam, to move towards ratification and full implementation of ILO commitments as well as engagement in a process of regular benchmarking.
Sergio Balibrea, from the Commission's DG Trade referred to the interim meeting of the Committee on Trade and Sustainable Development, held after the entry into force of the Korean legislation, to review the compliance of the Korean authorities with the panel resolution issued earlier this year. Mr. Balibrea reaffirmed the positive ambience and the level of engagement from the Korean side.
Taking the floor to provide some technical and legal aspects of the panel report, Michael Fridrich, from the Commission underscored the eligibility of membership and access to trade unions of unemployed and self-employed workers, saying that there had been some positive changes towards that front.
There has been a range of Korean jurisprudence that allowed these types of workers to join trade unions. This is a very positive trend, but we still think it is important to monitor closely.
The participants raised the issue of the fourth, still non-ratified, fundamental convention 105 on Abolition of Forced Labour, suggesting that more pressure should be put on the Korean government. However, the Korean counterparts had admitted that it was uncertain this would take place before the presidential elections in March 2022, repeating that this was a very sensitive issue for their government.
Apart from that, the Korean side had demonstrated further engagement with the EU negotiations, posing a number of questions within the context of labour protection measures and in particular on freedom of association, trade union system and membership. Ruth Seitz from the Commission's DG Employment mentioned specifically: Korea sent a detailed list of questions which mirrored the points requesting from the EU side.
Regarding the issue on the platform working framework, Ms. Seitz announced that the Commission was planning to come up with a proposal in December 2021, which would include not only aspects of freedom of association but also clarifications that touch upon working conditions and social protection.