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Police launch clampdown as strike fallout worsens

Police launch clampdown as strike fallout worsens

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Published : 2013-12-16 19:59
Updated : 2013-12-16 19:59

A man uses an automated ticketing machine at Seoul Station on Monday amid an ongoing rail strike.
(Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)

A passenger was killed Sunday in a subway accident apparently caused by safety failures amid an ongoing strike by railway workers.

Police on Monday began cracking down on leaders of the Korea Railroad Corp. union, whose walkout halted 70 percent of freight train services in its eighth day.

President Park Geun-hye urged them to stop taking the economy hostage for their own interests.

The union began a general strike on Dec. 9 in protest of the state-run rail monopoly’s plan to establish a subsidiary for a new bullet train service.

An 84-year-old passenger on a subway train, which was being run by a substitute worker, was killed at Government Complex Gwacheon Station on line 4 after her foot was caught in a train door. She was then dragged for more than a meter before her head struck a pillar.

About 31 percent of Line 4, a stretch from Seonbawi Station to Oido Station, is operated by the Korea Rail Corp., with 38.7 percent of its unionized workers on strike.

The train conductor was a 19-year-old college student, one of the 238 Korea National Railroad College undergrads sent as substitute workers that day.

The accident came amid mounting safety concerns over operations by substitute workers, as some 13 cases of trains and subway trains stopping, sometimes for hours, occurred between Wednesday and Friday due to technical difficulties.

The union blamed KORAIL, saying that the tragic accident was the result of KORAIL’s excessive workload given to the remaining workers and hiring of unqualified substitute workers.

“There was no problem in the automatic doors or switchgear when the accident occurred. Investigation is underway to examine the exact cause of the victim’s death,” KORAIL said in a statement on Monday.

The strike is already into its eighth day, taking a toll on operations of all KTX, ITX and subway trains under KORAIL.

President Park Geun-hye expressed regret over the weeklong strike, calling it “unjustifiable collective behavior that is aimed solely at self-gain.”

“The government has made it clear that the government has no plans for privatization of the new KTX train. The union’s mistrust of the government is causing serious damage to the economy,” President Park said during a chief secretary meeting.

The rail operator said Monday that KTX operations would be cut to 88 percent of its normal levels starting Tuesday, while Mugunghwa and subway train operations are reduced to 56 percent and 93.1 percent, respectively.

KORAIL operates lines 1, 3 and 4 jointly with Seoul Metro, which is scheduled to join the strike on Wednesday. KORAIL is the sole operator of the Bundang, Jungang, Gyeongchun and Gyeongui lines.

Police requested court warrants to detain 10 key figures leading the massive strike, including the union’s chairman Kim Myung-hwan.

KORAIL has filed complaints against 190 unionists for staging an illegal strike and impeding business.

By Suk Gee-hyun (monicasuk@heraldcorp.com)

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