[REPORTER'S DIARY]Strike Turbulence for Pilots

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[REPORTER'S DIARY]Strike Turbulence for Pilots

When the in-flight intercom crackles and the captain comes on to say, "We want to do everything we can to ensure you have a safe and comfortable flight," it soothes and comforts those passengers who are known as "white knuckle fliers."

Airline pilots are highly professional and technically skilled people, and at any one time hundreds of lives depend on them, and so it is also a profession that is respected and aspired to by many. The majority of people do not consider their 100 million won ($77,000) salaries extravagant. They more likely than not deserve them.

But that positive image has been tarnished considerably over the last few days after Korean Air pilots walked out on strike. Angry calls and messages from readers were testimony to that.

"This is a strike by the rich!" or "Do these people realize what kind of shape the economy is in and the pain and suffering that the farmers are experiencing?" The anger mounted, made all the more fiery by the crippling drought.

Just before the general strike called by the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions and the pilots' strike were about to start, an official at a public interest group reflected the opinion of most of the public when he said, "The timing could not be worse than this, with the worst drought in 90 years and the economy in shambles."

He expressed hope that the planes would not be grounded.

So the pilots' strike had weak justification from the very beginning - and it was illegal. What did the pilots gain by going against public sentiment? Now back on the job, they have lost a lot.

They got what they wanted on just two counts: equal representation from labor and management on a panel to resolve issues relating to flight regulations and a pledge that the number of foreign pilots would be reduced.

But they can hardly claim victory. Tempers were reported to have flared inside the pilots' union early Thursday morning due to the small gains in the agreement with the company.

On top of that, the pilots are now in the position where they are having to take the blame for the tens of billions of won in losses suffered in the two days that the planes were grounded.

But they guarded themselves against having to assume true responsibility for their actions in the cowardly written assurances they extracted from Korean Air management that they would not face civil or criminal prosecution for the damage they caused, and that reprimands by the the company will be kept to a minimum.

They have gained very little but caused much damage. The strike has acted to further tarnish the credibility and trust in professionals in our society, already precariously brittle from the doctors' strike last year. So ended the grand pilots' strike of June 2001, which is sure to go down as a sad chapter in our labor history.

Now what is left to do is for the pilots to do their best to repair the damage done to public faith in professionals.

The writer is a reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Sung Si-yoon

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