Korail crazinessThe Korean Railway Workers’ Union launched its planned two-day strike yesterday.
Only 40 percent of railway workers are permitted to engage in the strike, and the action did not completely paralyze the country’s train system. But the strike still hindered railway operations to some degree and likely will today as well.
The union said the primary motive behind the walkout was to help bring about certain improvements in the collective-bargaining system, but the organization also is using it as a way to protest the government’s reform measures in the public sector. It has made several demands, stressing that it is against voluntary retirement and downsizing full-time employees in the union - both of which go against the government’s reform measures.
The union strike cannot be justified, as the collective-bargaining agreement between the labor union and management limits such action to issues involving working conditions. The union went ahead with its plan to launch a strike anyway, and commuters and travelers are the ones who are paying the price.
Public sector reforms should be implemented immediately, as they will spur economic growth. According to recent findings by the Ministry of Strategy and Finance, the combined net profit of Korea’s 101 state-run organizations shrank 53 percent in 2008 while debt climbed 25 percent.
If the organizations were private corporations, they would be on the brink of bankruptcy. Irresponsible management was cited as the No. 1 reason for the downturn in profits.
The Korean Railway Workers’ Union cannot escape the ministry’s findings. Last year, the state-run railway corporation reported a 737.4 billion won ($624.5 million) operating loss. What’s worse, Korail’s debt ballooned to 6.8 trillion won as of the end of last year. Given Korail’s dire situation - and to force the ailing state-run railway corporation to bring its balance sheet back into the black - its workers cannot avoid a large-scale restructuring. The railway union’s strike can only be thought of bringing about self-inflicted wounds.
The country’s two umbrella labor unions ?? the Federation of Korean Trade Unions and the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions ?? on Wednesday announced that they will launch a series of joint strikes involving several labor organizations, including Korail.
The government should take stern measures against the Korean Railway Workers’ Union, using it to set an example for workers at other state-run agencies. At the same time, Korail should engage in labor-management discussions, but it should not issue forth inappropriate demands.