Workers fought for more wages and better labor conditions at the prestigious Yonsei University in Seoul for months.
The three students sued the president and vice president of the Korean Public and Transport Workers’ Union (KPTU) branch in Yonsei in May for staging “allegedly illegal and unregistered protests that generated stress.” and violated the right to learn for more than a month”.
They filed a criminal complaint and three separate civil suits seeking a total of 6,386,000 won (£4,120) in compensation for “school fees, mental damage and psychiatric treatment sessions”.
Workers are reportedly facing heavier workloads due to the layoffs and have demanded better pay and basic rights such as access to showers. The protests began in March after several months of negotiations with management, but yielded no concrete results.
“Four months of protests over our lunch got us nowhere,” said Kim Hyun-ok, a housekeeper and head of KPTU’s college team, according to the newspaper. South China Morning Post.
“Unfortunately, we disturbed the students who were studying, but we also had to make our voices heard because the school did not take care of us. We don’t want to be seen as a group that just protests. We see ourselves as a group that needs protection and cannot afford it,” she added.
In June, 23-year-old Lee Dong-su told a local TV station that he “couldn’t hear his teacher because of the noise from the protest”.
“I think loudly protesting inside the school is also considered student abuse. I’m afraid it will end up traumatizing me. Mr. Lee is one of three students who filed a complaint against the workers.
Many on social media called the students ‘ingrateful’ and said they had a ‘poor sense of privilege’.
“He misses the real cause of the problem and takes his anger out on people he sees as easy targets,” one user said, referring to Mr Lee.
Another said: “It really shows that training isn’t everything.”
However, thousands more, including students and alumni of Yonsei University, have come forward in support of the workers. Around 3,000 students signed a letter supporting the protesting workers, while many took part in a rally last week.
Large posters saying “you should be ashamed for only promoting your rights” have appeared on campus, according to local television station KBS News. These posters target those who have sued.
The former lawyers have also set up a legal support group to help workers deal with lawsuits.
“It is the school, not the worker, who is violating the student’s right to learn,” the students said in a letter supporting the protesters, MBC News reported. “If the attitude of the school which pushes the workers to struggle while neglecting them is not a violation of their right to learn, what is?
“Yonsei University is a famous private institution that is known for having a lot of capital, but it has rejected workers’ demands for the past 15 years and watched idly as students solidified in struggle. with the union,” Han-seul, president of the university’s student committee, which supports the union and its members, said.
“This trial took place because the school did not teach justice.”