KORAIL, the nation’s state-run rail operator, said Monday that it would hire contract-based employees and seek to outsource railway maintenance in a countermeasure against the labor union’s prolonged strike.
Speaking at a news conference, KORAIL President and CEO Choi Yeon-hye said, “With the strike entering day 15, the railroad operation rate fell to 70 percent and concern over safe operation of railroads is growing. If the strike continues, the operation rate is expected to drop to the 60 percent level from Dec. 31.’’
“In an effort to cope with the prolonged strike, the company developed a plan to hire 300 railroad engineers and 200 railroad crew workers on a contact basis next month, while outsourcing the railway maintenance functions,’’ Choi said.
Choi urged the union workers on strike to return to work, but did not mention any plans to meet for talks before the end of the strike.
She repeatedly said that the company would not privatize its new affiliate, which will be set up to run the Suseo KTX, a new branch of the KTX line, planned to begin operations in 2015.
“The establishment of the new unit is aimed at creating competition in railroad operations and thus raising the competitiveness of the industry (in the long term), not seeking railroad privatization,’’ Choi said, claiming that without changes and innovation, the heavily debt-laden KORAIL will not survive.
Despite her repeated explanations, some experts still point out that competition in railroad operations will ultimately have the same effect as privatization by forcing KORAIL to sell unprofitable rail lines.
Meanwhile, the KORAIL labor union called on the government on Monday to resolve the ongoing strike through dialogue.
“What the people want is solving the issue through reasonable dialogue, not oppressing the union,” union official Kim Jae-gil said at a press conference.
More than 8,000 unionized workers of KORAIL took to the streets on Dec. 9 in protest against a government decision to set up a KORAIL subsidiary to run the new KTX line. The union considers it a step toward privatization of railroad operations.
Despite strong opposition against the government’s rail industry advancement plan, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport is expected to issue a business license for the new rail service operator this week under the condition that it will invalidate the license when the licensee sells its stake to private companies.
KORAIL will hold only a 49 percent stake in the new railroad service firm.
By Seo Jee-yeon (email@example.com