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KORAIL union ends strike while management vows discipline

Unionists of the state-run railway operator KORAIL on Tuesday ended a 22-day walkout and returned to their workplaces.

However, they vowed to continue their struggle against the government's approval of the establishment of a KORAIL affiliate, which will run the new bullet train route out of Suseo in southwestern Seoul from as early as 2015.

"All union members returned and resumed their work as of 11 a.m. We will go back to our normal duties," said Choi Eun-cheol, spokesman of the union.

KORAIL chief executive Choi Yeon-hye confirmed the resumption of operation at a press conference held in the afternoon.

“Those who returned will be able to practice their shifts after taking a three-day safety training,” she said. “Therefore, we expect the metros to be normalized by Jan. 6 and KTX operation to be around Jan.14. We will make sure that people won’t suffer from the aftermath of the walkout on the Lunar New Year’s Day (that falls on Jan. 31),” she added.

The railway chief claimed that the affiliate establishment will be the solution to reinforce KORAIL, whose debt snowballed to 17 trillion won due to what she calls lax management. “We hope that the operation normalization will get us into the black in 2015,” she said. 

“KORAIL can now focus on building grounds for the Trans-Korean Railway and the Trans-Siberian Railroad reaching Europe. This will be a chance for us to catch up with the leading nations in railway operations,” she said.

Tough punishments are awaiting those who have led the strike. The KORAIL chief showed less generosity when announcing that the punishment process has already been launched against the leaders of the strike. The police said Tuesday that they have apprehended three ranking officials of the Korean Railway Workers' Union and are about to spot more.

But still, the unionists are also seeing no sign of accepting the KORAIL’s plan, which they believe would eventually lead to the privatization of the train service, creating massive layoffs and great inconvenience to the service users. 

“We are starting another struggle in our workplaces,” Choi Eun-cheol said. Union members are considering taking legal actions against the management to nullify the punishment.

The strike that kicked off on Dec. 9 has brought the country's railway service on halt, resulting in military and public service workers’ replacing the vacuum to avoid a possible traffic fiasco.

The cessation of the strike came after the unionists, government and political circle on Monday agreed to set up a subcommittee on rail industry development consisting of the same number of lawmakers from the ruling Saenuri and main opposition Democratic parties. The committee can form an advisory panel to include officials from KORAIL and experts, to ensure no railway privatization takes place.

The umbrella Korean Confederation of Trade Unions said it respects the railway workers’ decision, but that it will carry on the plan to hold three more general strikes on Jan. 9, 16 and 25 against the politically and socially sensitive agenda.

By Bae Ji-sook (