Friday, March 03, 2006
Railway strike disrupts transport
Police and railway authorities threatened stern responses against striking transport workers yesterday as their walkout entered a second day, leaving millions of commuters and cargos stranded across the nation.
About half of the 25,510 member Korean Railway Workers' Union has joined in the action since Wednesday.
Disruption is expected to worsen as the nationwide truckers' union yesterday threatened to step up action from next Monday after negotiations over fees with cargo companies failed.
Adding to the tension, the nation's second largest umbrella labor organization continued its general strike against new labor reform bills.
Thousands of rail workers ended a joint rally in eastern Seoul yesterday morning after police threatened to break up their sit in by force, but continued with sporadic struggles in small groups.
The state run Korea Railroad Corp. even issued an ultimatum ordering workers to return to work by 3:00 p.m. or face punishment including dismissal. State prosecutors, who had earlier declared the walkout as illegal, issued an order to arrest 11 union leaders involved in the strike.
Cargos are left alone at a Busan train depot yesterday as a railway strike disrupted transportation. [The Korea Herald]
The government has invoked its authority for an emergency arbitration, under which any collective action is banned for a 15 day cooling off period.
Despite labor's firm stance, KORAIL said some 2,325 workers or 17 percent of demonstrators returned to work as of 3 p.m. and more are expected to follow suit.
However, most of the key workers such as drivers and engineers have still not returned to work, casting clouds on any hope for an early return to normalcy.
Subway service in Seoul dropped to 52 percent of normal operations, KORAIL said, as the walkout affected lines No. 1, 2 and 4, which are run in cooperation with KORAIL.
The running of KTX, the high speed train, and normal trains also fell to 34 percent and 16 percent, respectively, KORAIL said.
The railway strike also crippled cargo train services in cities across the nation, threatening to damage the export driven economy.
In Busan, the nation's second largest city, only 20 of 56 freight trains were in operation to carry out shipments yesterday.
Talks between the union and management failed again yesterday morning. The labor is demanding the reinstatement of dismissed laborers and an increase of personnel. KORAIL fired a combined 67 union workers who were involved in illegal strikes in the past. Management has said that the labor is demanding too much.
"We were not able to narrow the differences. Some issues were agreed on but the labor wants a package settlement," Yoo Jae young, a KORAIL official in charge of labor affairs, told reporters.
Despite the government's tough stance, labor leaders confirmed that they will continue to strike.
"The strike will likely extend for a longer period. We are aware that we will have to take responsibility for this illegal strike. Nevertheless, we are on a strike because the problems of KORAIL are too serious," KRWU's spokesperson, Jo Sang soo, told reporters.
The strike coincided with a general strike called by the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, the nation's second largest umbrella labor organization, against new labor reform bills.
The Ministry of Labor estimated that about 60,000 or 70,000 employees including those from Hyundai Motor and Kia Motor participated in the strike.
The general strike was triggered by a parliamentary committee's approval of bills on Monday which would allow companies to use temporary workers for up to two years after which they must be hired as permanent staff.
By Jin Hyun joo
Yesterday 2 March, I had the day off and I was going to take care of a minor problem is Seoul, sad to say I did not even need to go. I tried to take the train, no luck, so I took the BUS. It was an express bus from Daejeon to Seoul cost 12$, no thrills but it was a nice ride.
No service to Sontang nor Pyongtek, so think I wont be their for awhile. I will be in Seoul tommorrow so it looks like Bus once again. I ll leave early for a trtain bit if no such luck then the bus station is only 1 bus or taxi ride away.
This could get very intresting for the next few weeks.