Students at elite South Korean university slammed for suing labourers over ‘noisy’ protests

·3-min read
Workers at Yonsei University in South Korea have sought better pay and basic rights such as access to showers (Instagram/Yonsei University)
Workers at Yonsei University in South Korea have sought better pay and basic rights such as access to showers (Instagram/Yonsei University)

Three students at an elite South Korean university are facing the wrath of netizens for suing cleaners and security workers at the institution for their “noisy protests”.

The workers have been fighting for more pay and better working conditions at the prestigious Yonsei University in Seoul for months.

The three students sued the Korean Public Service and Transport Workers’ Union’s (KPTU) branch president and vice president at Yonsei in May for holding allegedly “illegal and unregistered protests that generated stress and invaded one’s right to learn for over a month”.

They filed a criminal suit and three separate civil lawsuits asking for a combined 6,386,000 won (£4,120) in compensation for “tuition, mental damages and psychiatry treatment sessions”.

The workers are reportedly facing heavier workloads due to lay-offs, and have sought better pay and basic rights such as access to showers. The protests began in March after several months of negotiations with the management, but have not led to any concrete results.

“Four months of protesting during our lunchtime have got us nowhere,” Kim Hyun-ok, a cleaner and the head of KPTU’s university team, said, according to the South China Morning Post.

“We, unfortunately, disturbed students who were studying, but we also needed to raise our voices as the school didn’t take care of us. We don’t want to be looked on as a group that merely protests. We consider ourselves as a group that needs to be protected and provided for as we don’t have the means to ourselves,” she added.

In June, 23-year-old Lee Dong-su told a local television channel that he “couldn’t hear his professor because of the noise from the protest”.

“I think protesting loudly inside the school is also considered abuse towards the students. I worry that this could end up traumatising me.” Mr Lee is one of the three students who has filed a suit against the workers.

Many on social media called the students “ungrateful” and said they had a “wrong sense of privilege”.

“He’s missing the real cause of the problem and taking his anger (out) on people he views as an easy mark,” one user said, referring to Mr Lee.

Another said: “It really shows that educational background isn’t everything.”

However, thousands of others, including students and alumni of Yonsei Univesity, have come forward to support the workers. About 3,000 students signed a letter supporting the protesting workers, while many participated in a rally last week.

Big posters that say “you should be ashamed to only promote your rights” have come up on campus, according to local TV channel KBS News. These posters target those who filed lawsuits.

Alumni lawyers have also set up a legal support group to help the workers deal with lawsuits.

“It is the school, not the worker, that infringes on the student’s right to learn,” students said in a letter supporting the protesters, MBC News reported. “If the attitude of the school that leads the workers to struggle while neglecting them is not a violation of their right to learn, what is it?”

“Yonsei University is a famous private institution that’s known for having a lot of capital, but it has rejected the requests of labourers for the past 15 years and has looked on idly even as students have solidified in the fight with the labour union,” Han-seul, chair of the university’s student committee, which is supporting the union and its members, said.

“This lawsuit happened because the school didn’t teach about justice.”

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