|KORAIL CEO Choi Yeon-hye (right) and rail union deputy leader Park Tae-man (left) stand awkwardly as Jogyesa Temple Ven. Dobeob asks them to shake hands before holding a three-way meeting to resolve the railway strike at a Buddhist cultural hall in Seoul on Thursday. (Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald)|
Korea Railroad Corp. and its union resumed talks Thursday, raising hopes to resolve the railway workers’ strike that has crippled the nation’s cargo transport for 18 days.
The first working-level negotiation in 13 days was arranged during a meeting between its chief executive Choi Yeon-hye and union deputy chief Park Tae-man at Jogyesa Temple, where union leaders have holed up since Tuesday.
Both labor and management expressed optimism after the 30-minute meeting brokered by Ven. Dobeob., chief of the conflict resolution committee of Jogye Order.
“The two sides met with sincerity. As a result, we decided to proceed with negotiations. We ask for active support from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport and the National Assembly for an early resolution to the strike,” Park said after the meeting.
The KORAIL president made a public apology again for the nation’s longest-running railway walkout.
“I believe the door is always open for dialogue,” Choi added.
Park and other union officials took shelter at Jogyesa Temple in central Seoul on Tuesday. They are wanted by police for leading the illegal strike.
Jogyesa Temple said it would protect the strike leaders and called for dialogue between the company and the union.
“We cannot look away when laborers have come into the folds of Buddha in desperation,” the order said in a statement on Thursday.
The Buddhist sect launched a committee on Thursday to mediate between the company and the union.
Hundreds of police surrounded the temple. With no precedent of the authorities forcing their way into a religious facility, it is considered unlikely that they will attempt to enter the temple to make an arrest.
Police chief Lee Sung-han ordered an early apprehension of strike leaders during a meeting with senior police officials nationwide.
The union also filed a complaint with the prosecution calling for an investigation into the KORAIL president for illegal surveillance of union officials.
Earlier in the day, KORAIL pressured the union by putting out a public notice to hire 660 substitute workers.
“We plan to hire more workers if the strike is protracted further,” said Jang Jin-bok, a company spokesman.
The railway union has staged the general strike since Dec. 9 in protest of the government’s plans to place a subsidiary of the state-run rail operator Korea Railroad Corp. in charge of a new KTX bullet train route.
Despite repeated denials from the government and KORAIL, the union claims that setting up the subsidiary is a step toward railway privatization.
By Choi He-suk