On February 6th, 2018, the National Graduate Student Labor Union issued a statement, asserting that more than 70 SKKU graduate students were soon to be “fired” because of the school’s decision not to hire graduate students as assistants from February 28th. In its statement, the union insisted on the immediate withdrawal of the school’s decision on the dismissal of graduate students. Kang Tae-kyung, the vice president of the union, claimed that SKKU “fired” graduate students because it wanted to avoid any possible accusations, like those of Dongguk Universtiy, against its decision. In September 2016, graduate students who were working as administrative and teaching assistants from Dongguk University filed a lawsuit against their university president because the school was not paying insurance fees, severance pay, and stipends to the assistants. It was a clear violation of the Labor Standards Act and the Employee Retirement Benefit Security Act. SKKU authorities disputed that since graduate students working as assistants and receiving scholarships are not hired through written contracts, it is inappropriate to say that they are “fired”; it is more that their scholarships have just expired. They refuted the claim that the school is excluding the contracts with students who are currently working as administrative assistants from extension and asserted that the decision was made to help graduate students to focus solely on their education.
|Koo Seul-a, the president of the National Graduate Student Labor Union, demonstrating
School President Jung Gyu-sang Speaking at the 2018 SKKU Maltriculation Ceremony in front of the SKKU’s 600th Anniversary Hall on February 12th/hankookilbo.com
Shin Jeong-wook, the secretary-general of the union, however, said that there were no actions for asking the opinions of graduate students and that the union would respond to the school by any means necessary. The result of a survey of 68 assistants conducted by the National Graduate Student Labor Union backed up the claim that the school’s decision was unilateral. According to the survey, 92% of assistants responded that they were not given proper explanations regarding their dismissals from the school, and 77% of them contended that they thought they were working next semester as well. SKKU graduate students also rebutted that it is inappropriate to “fire” them because their contractual periods have not expired yet. According to the assistant appointment regulations of SKKU, graduate students who wrote up recommendations for appointments which are renewed every year can work for up to two years. One graduate student complained that he only worked for a semester until he lost his job because of the school’s sudden decision. Another student claimed that he applied to be an assistant, expecting that he would receive a wage for two years, but now, he has to find another job. Staff members of the school also showed remorse and supported students. During a meeting of the Steering Committee of the College of Liberal Arts on February 5th, heads of each department reportedly said that it was extremely shameful to witness the anti-educational and illegal behaviors that are occurring in SKKU, which should not be done on any account.
As the opposition of the graduate students and the labor union got stronger, the school held a brief session to appease them. The school said that it would change its assistant regulations and promised to give \450,000 to \480,000 to its graduate students working as assistants. The assistants, however, argued that the amount of money was far from enough. The union commented that this “dismissal” incident clearly proved that universities only think of their graduate students as disposable tools. The issue is still not resolved even now, so it is not easy to predict how the conflict between SKKU and its graduate students will turn out.
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