|People wait in a line at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul on Sunday. Korea Railroad Corp.’s labor union continued its strike for a 21st consecutive day. (Yonhap News)|
The ongoing strike by railway workers is likely to cause major disruptions to transport services ahead of the New Year holiday as labor and management showed no signs of compromise.
Korea Railroad Corp.’s labor union continued its strike Sunday for the 21st consecutive day and the major labor confederation threatened a second sympathy walkout and wider antigovernment protest.
They pledged to escalate action after the government on Friday issued a license for a new high-speed train affiliate of KORAIL.
The union began the strike on Dec. 9 in opposition to the plan, which they suspect to be a move to privatize the train service and lead to massive layoffs.
As of Sunday, about 32.5 percent of KORAIL’s 20,473 employees were still on strike, cutting the train operation rate to 70 percent capacity for the second week.
According to the state-run company, the KTX bullet train was running at 75 percent of its usual schedule, with other commuter trains at 60 percent and cargo trains at 45 percent.
The prolonged protests and unionized strike are likely to bring chaos to passenger and freight transports this week ahead of the New Year’s holiday period, when the demand for railway services usually rises.
KORAIL announced Saturday that it would take disciplinary measures against 490 union leaders and also take legal actions to seek compensation for financial damages. The announcement came after its chief executive, Choi Yeon-hye, issued an ultimatum for thousands of strikers to get back to work by last Friday or face punitive measures.
Yet, more than 6,600 rail workers, mostly engine operators, still refused to return to work, prolonging the longest-ever strike for the country’s railroads. KORAIL said it would hire 660 substitute workers to ease the freight gridlock, but so far only 20 additional workers have been hired.
The railway strike intensified after the government gave the nod for a new KORAIL subsidiary to operate a KTX bullet train route from Suseo, in southwestern Seoul, to Busan.
Thousands of rail workers and supporters rallied in central Seoul and marched into the streets on Saturday.
Choi Eun-cheol, secretary general of the railway union, blamed the government on Sunday for seeking “unconstitutional” measures to fire railway workers.
“(The government) is looking to apply the same rules (that apply to public officials) to dismiss us. Although we work for a public service, we’re privately contracted workers,” Choi, who is taking refuge in the main opposition Democratic Party’s headquarters, said at a press briefing.
“It’s unconstitutional and against the law (to take disciplinary measures against the unionists),” he added.
The union said the union would file a lawsuit to nullify the government’s license and declared that the strike and protests would continue against the government and the company.
By Oh Kyu-wook (firstname.lastname@example.org)