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Eleventh Hour Compromise for Railway Labor and Management

Eleventh Hour Compromise for Railway Labor and Management

Posted April. 20, 2003 22:10,   


Labor and management reached an agreement at the eleventh hour, avoiding a massive railway strike that was to take place on April 20.

During marathon negotiations that lasted over 24 hours from 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, management at the Korea National Railroad (KORAIL) withdrew a plan to reduce the number of crew people running a locomotive to one person and accepted the reinstatement of 45 workers. Labor and management at KORAIL signed the statement of the conditions above as well as a written promise to jointly develop the railway industry further.

Upon reaching the agreement, KORAIL trade unionists returned to work. The labor union also plans to vote on the agreement.

Items of agreement

Labor and management decided to withdraw plans to operate vehicles with one engineer per train. This decision, in line with new demands for workers on express trains and the extension of the subway line between Suwon and Byeongjeom, left the state-run agency lacking workers. Based on this, KORAIL decided to hire 1,500 workers by June.

With respect to an additional 1,358 workers it needs to carry out new projects, KORAIL plans to decide on the exact number of workers it needs after carrying out due diligence and hire the workers gradually by December this year.

In addition, the state-run agency decided to reinstate 45 out of 51 workers whom it laid off from 1983 to 1994 by the end of July.

When it comes to the 8 billion won loss that KORAIL incurred from last year’s railway strike, management has decided to drop its lawsuit demanding damages from the trade union and withdraw its provisional seizure of union assets.

The government agreed to withdraw its plan to privatize the nation`s railroad industry and to look for other ways of reform, including the option of separating the facilities section and operations section and incorporating maintenance into the operations section.

Points of contention

Negotiations in days to come are expected to face tough going because there is room for different interpretations of the statement adopted by labor and management.

In particular, controversy is expected over the general content of reform for the railroad industry.

The statement says that the government will “withdraw from its previous position to privatize the railroad industry and explore other ways of reform.” Based on this wording, KORAIL explains that this makes the assumption that KORAIL will become a public corporation.

However, the trade union denied this, saying it should proceed based on general consensus that would be reached through debate.

Experts point out that the government failed to coordinate the views of related ministries and that due to the trade union`s brinkmanship it failed to stick to its previous position of separating the operations section and making it into a public corporation. They also say that the government will face such challenges in labor-management relations in the public sector in the future.

Jae-Seong Hwang Kyung-Joon Chung jsonhng@donga.com news91@donga.com