More than 100 striking railway workers were taken into custody Sunday after the police forced their way into a union office with tear gas to round them up for questioning.
Some 600 police officers were deployed to raid the headquarters of a militant labor umbrella group, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), in central Seoul around 11 a.m. to arrest union leaders of the state-run Korea Railroad Corp. (KORAIL) who have been defying summons by prosecutors.
A strking railway worker is being dragged by police officers in Seoul on Sunday. (Yonhap News)
The unionists fought back with water cannons as riot police forced their way in with tear gas.
The tense standoff lasted for more than two hours before the police whisked away 119 KCTU members.
More than 6,500 unionized KORAIL workers walked off the job two weeks ago in protest against a government decision to set up a KORAIL subsidiary to run part of the high-speed train services. The union suspects the move is a scheme to privatize KORAIL, leading to mass layoffs. The government said the strike is illegal.
Shortly after the raid, the government renewed its ultimatum to the union and ordered the striking members to return to work.
"It has come to a point where the government cannot tolerate this any longer, as the prolonged illegal strike has resulted in inconvenience to the people and losses to the national economy," Transport Minister Suh Seoung-hwan said.
The minister also urged union members to comply with arrest warrants.
Police officers prepare to storm into a union office on Sunday. (Yonhap News)
Last week, district courts across the country issued warrants to arrest 25 strike leaders, including the union head Kim Myung-hwan, after they repeatedly refused to appear for questioning.
The government says that the subsidiary's establishment has nothing to do with privatization, and that the new unit will be owned by KORAIL and state-run investors. In a move to convince the workers, the government also said it will issue a license for the new affiliate to operate only on the condition that its stake never be sold to private investors.
The new service by the affiliate is scheduled to run from Suseo-dong in southern Seoul to the southeastern port city of Busan from 2016. (Yonhap News)