Organizing Care and Construction Workers in South Korea: The Complex Entanglements of Gender, Ethnicity, Migration and Nationalism

Thursday, 14 July 2016: 11:15
Location: Hörsaal 31 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Jennifer CHUN, University of Toronto, Canada
Care and construction workers in South Korea – workers in two contrasting sectors of gendered informal employment – are creating new organizations and experimenting with new representational strategies. Founded in 2004 under the Korean Women Workers Association, the National Home Managers’ Association is a membership-based social cooperative with 14 branches across the country that represents women who provide housecleaning, cooking, personal care, childcare, and eldercare to private households, forms of domestic work that have been historically excluded from the national labour standards law and social insurance schemes. Established in 2007 as an affiliate of the Korean Federation of Construction Industry Trade Unions under the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, the Korean Construction Workers Union is a regionally-organized labour union that represents men who work as day labourers on residential building construction sites and as own-account workers in industrial plants under a multi-layered subcontracting system that is unlawful and perpetually violates minimum employment standards. Interestingly, both organizations utilize collective contracts, either in the form of collective bargaining agreements or domestic service contracts, to secure job placements for their members: Korean nationals who face age and social status discrimination as older workers in their 50s and 60s and who confront labour market competition from a younger cohort of Korean Chinese migrant workers, commonly referred to as Joseonjok. Such agreements provide important institutional vehicles for reducing job instability and improving working conditions for specific groups of socially marginalized workers, but they also reflect the complex social terrain upon which informal worker organizations are building collective voice and representation. In this paper, I draw upon preliminary field research conducted with a team of graduate students for a global comparative study to explore how gender, ethnicity, migration, and nationalism shape the priorities and strategies of newly created organizations in the informal care and construction sectors.