Go to contents

[Editorial] Government Must Not Succumb to Railroad Unions

[Editorial] Government Must Not Succumb to Railroad Unions

Posted June. 29, 2003 22:25,   


The government’s labor policies seem to be on the right track, albeit belated. For the first time, it forcefully dispersed a demonstration of unionized railroad workers who were staging rallies opposed to the railroad restructuring plan and issued a warning for them to return to work.

The participatory government is responsible for the ill-fated practices of ‘first-strike, then negotiate,’ by having accepted many of the demands of the labor unions to resolve walkouts. This time, however, the government should not withdraw from the principle of the law as it did with the Korean Cargo Workers Federation (KCWF) and Chohung Bank.

Railroad restructuring is a government policy and will be enacted by the National Assembly. Therefore, it cannot be a bargaining chip for the labor-management relationship and labor disputes. At a time when the operations of freight trains plummeted to 10% their normal level, thereby negatively affecting the national economy as well as subway commuters and train travelers, it was natural for the government to regard the strike as illegal and warn of stern disciplinary measures for those unionized workers who failed to return to work.

A closer look at the railroad walkout this time, sparked by the passage of the railroad reform bill through the National Assembly’s standing committee, shows that unionized workers are attempting to maintain the current railroad management system which imposes a heavy burden on the public to avoid the painful restructuring process.

The railroad corporation has been suffering from an annual deficit of 600-700 billion won and has already received a subsidy of 1 trillion won this year alone. It is inevitable for the government to change the ‘entrenched’ state-run railroad’s structure in order to make management more effective and prepared for the age of high-speed rail.

The railroad labor union argues that the government disregarded the labor-management agreement in April this year and failed to hear their opinion on the matter. However, the government and National Assembly have no obligation to respect the unjustifiable agreement to postpone restructuring. Moreover, their argument that the government failed to listen to their various opinions came after the bill was passed by the standing committee of the National Assembly while they were trying to avoid the government’s demands for dialogue. It is certain that their move is aimed at finding any fault to delay the restructuring process.

To make matters worse, the Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU) is poised to stage a general strike to abolish the act on special economic zones. Here, if the government succumbs to such a political walkout by unionized railroad workers, it will always have to heed to the labor unions while in power. Therefore, the government must not make any concessions, under any circumstances.