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Union Calls Halt to 4-Day Rail Strike

Posted March. 06, 2006 03:01,   


Korean Railroad Company (KORAIL) union workers called a halt to their four-day rail strike yesterday.

Subway service in the Seoul metropolitan area and Korea Train Express (KTX) service returned to normal on Sunday after 16,897 union workers returned to work on Saturday. Passenger and freight services are expected to return to normal after Monday.

According to KORAIL estimates, losses due to the strike are expected reach 15 billion won, including 12.9 billion won from March 1 to March 4, and two billion won on Sunday alone.

The National Labor Relations Commission decided to bring the labor dispute to arbitration on March 15 after labor and management failed to narrow down differences.

“New labor and management relations that abide by law and principles should be established from now on. Disciplinary measures against unionized workers will be decided according to corporate rules after operations are normalized,” said KORAIL President Lee Chul at a press conference Saturday.

The government, KORAIL, and the union still have responsibilities despite the end of the strike. “Labor and management have all failed because we have lost the citizens’ trust,” Lee said.

KORAIL and the police put pressure on the union after the government announced that it would take a harsh stance against the illegal strike.

KORAIL threatened to suspend 2,244 workers, to take disciplinary measures according to corporate rules, and to file indemnification lawsuits.

On Saturday, police rounded up 411 strikers across the country. A total of 401 were released with a warning, and 10 were indicted on charges of "interfering in the execution of duty." The police are in the process of arresting 26 union leaders, and is searching for them based on their last known addresses.

The union had no choice but to terminate its strike after more than 50 percent of its workers returned to work on Saturday.

Meanwhile, first class travelers on KTX trains are expected to experience some inconveniences as 350 female KTX crewmembers are still on strike in Gangwon Province.

The main reason the railway strike ended in just four days is that the union failed to gain popular support. That support was not forthcoming because the strike caused disruptions nationwide, and because some of the union’s demands, including the reinstatement of laid-off workers and the conversion of KTX temporary workers to regular employment status had little to do with rail worker welfare.

“There are many workers who have worked for over 10 years on trains other than KTX. Why should we care for KTX workers who have worked for two years?” said a unionized worker.

KORAIL’s union did not strike in December 2004, just before the Korea National Railroad became KORAIL. But KORAIL’s union was criticized for deciding to go on strike after the Korean Federation of Trade Unions decided to do so last month in response to the passage of a bill on temporary workers.

Strike Measures Needed-

KORAIL is expected to decide what legal proceedings it will bring against unionized workers who participated in the strike.

Heavy disciplinary measures are inevitable for strike leaders, but KORAIL is taking a cautious stance on layoffs, as massive layoffs could cause other problems.

KORAIL is also being criticized for failing to come up with a measure to prevent the disruptions, as the union warned KORAIL in advance that it would strike.

KORAIL was caught relying on an incorrect projection, saying, “The union will not let matters get out of control when the government is actively participating to resolve the public corporation debt issue.”

An ongoing KTX crewmember strike could trigger yet another dispute, as the two sides are expected to collide over disciplinary measures against laborers and KORAIL chief Lee’s promised revisions.

Tae-Hun Hwang beetlez@donga.com ditto@donga.com