Thousands of union workers dressed in ‘Squid Game’ costumes rallied in South Korea, calling on the government to improve workers’ rights

Unions workers in Seoul, South Korea, wear masks and costumes inspired by the Netflix original Korean series 'Squid Game.'
Unions workers in Seoul, South Korea, wear masks and costumes inspired by the Netflix original Korean series ‘Squid Game’ during a rally demanding job security. Ahn Young-joon/AP
  • Thousands of union workers in South Korea went on strike Wednesday demanding better workers’ rights.
  • About 80,000 members of the South Korean Confederation of Trade Unions rallied in 13 different cities in South Korea.
  • Some protesters donned “Squid Game” costumes, saying they are struggling like the characters in the show.

Thousands of union workers wearing costumes from the Netflix hit “Squid Game” rallied in the streets across South Korea on Wednesday, demanding job security.

About 80,000 members of the South Korean Confederation of Trade Unions in 13 different cities in South Korea went on strike on Wednesday local time, calling on the nation’s government to impose better working conditions for irregular workers and a minimum wage hike, The Straits Times reported.

In Seoul alone, 27,000 people gathered to protest, prompting local authorities to deploy about 12,000 officers to set up “bus walls” and fences for crowd control, namely in Gwanghwamun Plaza, where most of the rallies took place, according to The Straits Times.

Lim Yun Suk, the Korea Bureau Chief for Channel News Asia, tweeted that some union workers said, like the characters in the popular Korean survival drama, “they too are struggling to make a living.”

The Netflix original series, which captured global attention since debuting on the streaming platform in mid-September, centers on 456 adults on the brink of financial ruin who are invited to play children’s games to win 45 billion won, or about $US40 ($AU53) million – but losing the games has deadly consequences.

The show hit too close to home for some in South Korea, where “workers work 44.6 h per week on average, higher than the number of average weekly working hours (32.8) in OECD member nations,” according to an article published in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health in July 2016.

“Some scenes were very hard to watch,” Lee Chang-keun, a former worker at South Korea’s Ssangyong Motors, which laid off thousands of employees while filing for bankruptcy protection in 2009, told ABC News.

“In ‘Squid Game,’ you see characters scrambling to survive after being laid off at work, struggling to operate fried chicken diners or working as ‘daeri’ drivers,” a rental service where drivers take drunk people home in their own cars, Lee added. “That reminded me of my co-workers who died.”

The rally came in stark violation of the country’s strict social distancing COVID-19 policies, which only allows gatherings of up to eight people if the group includes four fully vaccinated people, and up to 10 people in other regions, according to a Reuters report.

All rallies are banned in Seoul and the greater Seoul area under the city’s tight social distancing measures.

Korean President Moon Jae-in also encouraged union workers not to rally in a bid to prevent the spread of COVID-19.