The Korea Herald


ILO requests government's stance on its back-to-work order for doctors

By Choi Jeong-yoon

Published : March 29, 2024 - 17:53

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A medical official walks at a hospital in Daegu, Wednesday. (Yonhap) A medical official walks at a hospital in Daegu, Wednesday. (Yonhap)

The International Labour Organization has asked the South Korean government to express its position on Korean doctors' request to reconsider the United Nations agency's intervention in its back-to-work order imposed on protesting junior doctors, the labor ministry said Friday.

"Unlike ILO's previous notice of terminating the intervention request due to the lack of eligibility of the Korea Intern Resident Association, they are seen to have come to such a decision, taking consideration of the KIRA's claim that they represent the occupational rights of trainee doctors," said the statement released by the ministry.

"(The ministry) will convey its stance that the back-to-work order was a justifiable measure for the protection of people's lives and makes an exceptional case for (the ILO's) Convention (No. 29)," it added.

Such development comes two weeks after the Korean Intern Resident Association, a major organization for trainees consisting of thousands of junior doctors, received a notice from the ILO on March 15 that they are not eligible for intervention requests as they are not a recognized labor union.

The KIRA sent a letter to the ILO on March 13, requesting its intervention in Seoul's back-to-work order for striking junior doctors. It claimed that the government's decision to force doctors to return to work was in violation of the ILO's Convention No. 29, dubbed the "Forced Labor Convention," which bans any entity from using forced labor defined as any labor or service that a person is forced to provide under threat of punishment.

The government had issued an order for striking trainee doctors to return to work or face penalties, such as the revocation of their medical license, after thousands of trainee doctors staged walkouts last month in protest against the government's plan to raise the medical school quota.

The government has temporarily put a hold on administrative orders for suspending the medical licenses of protesting doctors as President Yoon Suk Yeol urged political parties to seek a flexible process for suspension and promote dialogue with medical workers.

Regarding the recent ILO request, the ministry said it does not contain any judgment from the agency on the government's action regarding the No. 29 protocol.

It also added that considering the intervention is not an official procedure, but merely a way of exploring the government's stance, it will thoroughly explain that the administration is in talks with medical doctors and will abide by the ILO agreements.

Meanwhile, a local law firm representing the KIRA reported that the ILO has sent a letter stating that the agency has "intervened" with the government regarding the issues raised by the junior doctors and urged the administration to resolve the matter through social dialogue.

The law firm also mentioned that the agency added that any information provided by the government regarding the matter will be conveyed to the doctors according to the ongoing procedure.