The Korea Herald


[Newsmaker] Leadership of rail chief put to test

By Korea Herald

Published : Dec. 10, 2013 - 20:14

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Choi Yeon-hye Choi Yeon-hye

Choi Yeon-hye, CEO of the state-run rail operator KORAIL, is taking a chance on her leadership by adopting a zero-tolerance policy on the hard-line unionized rail workers’ strike.

“I shall deal (with the walkout) with a mother’s heart,” Choi said through an official statement on Monday, apologizing for the inconveniences caused by the KORAIL labor union’s nationwide strike.

Despite her seemingly soft-hearted words, the rail operator’s first-ever female chief has largely been stern and forthright so far, especially when it comes to labor-management disputes.

As soon as the railway union kicked off an indefinite strike on Monday, as it had previously said it would, Choi fired a total of 4,356 unionists and filed a lawsuit against 196 executive and leading members for impeding business.

It was also she who announced a wage freeze last month, explicitly dismissing the union’s persistent demand for a pay raise and a delay of the retirement age from 58 to 60.

“Excess spending is intolerable as KORAIL’s accumulated debts exceed 17 trillion won ($16 billion) and its debt ratio is over 400 percent of its total assets,” the 57-year-old CEO said. Choi, a well-known rail expert who served as dean of Korea National Railroad College, is the first female president of KORAIL.

The state-run railway’s labor union, together with Hyundai Motor labor union, is known to be one of the most hard-line labor organizations here.

KORAIL and the unionists have been at odds lately over the plan to establish a new KTX route connecting southern Seoul to other cities.

The new rail operator is to be affiliated with KORAIL and only public funds will be used to purchase its stocks, but the union claimed that the plan will eventually lead to the privatization of the nation’s railway and result in job losses and fare hikes.

“(The union’s privatization claim) is unfounded, as the new KTX company will be under KORAIL’s umbrella and no civil capital involvement will be allowed,” Choi said.

“I thus urge our beloved employees to refrain from the illegal strike and return to their workplaces immediately.”

By Bae Hyun-jung (