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[Newsmaker] Jinju Medical Center dispute continues

The controversy surrounding the planned closure of Jinju Medical Center showed no signs of letting up, with the proposal pending at the provincial assembly.

Members of the medical trade union and the police clashed as the workers attempted to prevent Saenuri Party councilors from attending a plenary session of the local assembly in Jinju, South Gyeongsang Province, while lawmakers of opposition parties were blocked by the authorities from entering the building. 
Members of a labor organization calling for Jinju Medical Center to remain open demonstrate outside the South Gyeongsang Province assembly Wednesday. (Yonhap News)
Members of a labor organization calling for Jinju Medical Center to remain open demonstrate outside the South Gyeongsang Province assembly Wednesday. (Yonhap News)

South Gyeongsang Province’s decision to close down Jinju Medical Center has faced strong opposition from the union and progressive politicians.

The controversy was amplified when ruling party members of the culture and welfare committee of the South Gyeongsang Provincial Council used force to prevent opposition councilors from intervening.

In the process, two opposition councilors ― Kim Kyung-sook of the Democratic United Party and Gang Seong-hun of the Unified Progressive Party ― were injured. In addition, six patients who were moved to different hospitals have died since Feb. 26 when the decision to close the center was finalized.

According to the local government, the medical center’s financial hardships were caused by the labor union. The provincial government claims that it and the council have suggested restructuring and other measures to normalize operations 47 times since 2008, but the so-called “aristocrat union” refused.

“Aristocrat union” refers to union members who abuse their positions for personal gain.

Members of the hospital’s labor union have rejected such claims saying they had not received pay in eight months, and that the average monthly salary was 1.7 million won ($1,500). In comparison, Korea Employment Information Service data shows that university graduates’ average salary is 22 million won, or about 1.83 million won per month.

As the controversy grows, the main opposition DUP and the left-wing UPP have rallied together in criticizing South Gyeongsang Gov. Hong Joon-pyo, and to pressure Saenuri Party to take a clear position on the issue.

By Choi He-suk (cheesuk@heraldcorp.com)
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