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Union group stages strike to protest labor reforms

By Ock Hyun-ju
South Korea’s second-largest umbrella labor union held a partial strike nationwide Wednesday in protest of the government’s push for labor market reform.
The third partial strike of the year by the Korea Confederation of Trade Unions was staged for two to four hours in the afternoon in 12 cities ahead of the third antigovernment rally scheduled for this weekend.
The KCTU, which encompasses 2,043 unions and more than 691,000 members from sectors including construction, public transport and metal, has opposed the government-led labor market reform they have said will lead to easier layoffs and expansion of hiring of irregular workers.
Some 74,000 workers from 26 unions, including those of Hyundai Motor and Kia Motors, under the KCTU joined the strike. Separately, 17,000 unionized workers took to the streets for rallies.
The militant labor union previously walked off jobs on April 24 and July 15 this year against the labor market reform, with the first strike having drawn about 260,000 unionists. The second walkout was smaller, with 45,000 unionists participating as the Hyundai Motor union, the biggest in the manufacturing industry, did not join.
“The KCTU will maintain its readiness until early next year to resist the government and ruling party’s attempt to revamp the labor market,” the KCTU said in a statement. “We will declare an all-out strike and take to the streets if the government makes a provocation.”
The government vowed severe action against what it called illegal strikes in accordance with law and principle.
“The Dec. 16 walk-out is clearly politically oriented and illegal,” Labor Minister Lee Ki-kwon said Monday during the meeting with heads of state-run labor organizations. “The meaningless strike and refusal for social discourse will not be tolerated by Koreans.”
The minister also said that the labor market revamp would generate more than 370,000 jobs, especially for the young, and stabilize employment of irregular workers, he added.
The strike came amid mounting tensions between the government and laborers over the scheduled antigovernment protests and the KCTU chief Han Sang-kyun being taken into custody on charges of leading what police called illegal rallies.
Police issued another ban on the third rally in downtown Seoul set for Saturday, citing possible traffic disruption and clashes with conservative groups who earlier booked the demonstration venue.
“We have no change in our stance about any illegal, collective and violent acts. The government will respond sternly to such acts,” the Justice Ministry said.