Rail union far off track

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Rail union far off track

Railway union workers nationwide are on strike again. It is their third walkout this year, including a two-day disruption earlier this month. This time, the union is threatening to strike for an indefinite period of time, foreshadowing chaos in the nation’s public transportation system.

On the surface, the Korea Railway Workers’ Union is protesting against the management’s unilateral negation of a collective bargaining agreement. Union representatives claim the management has “forced” the union to strike by overturning the agreement in the midst of negotiations. But considering what the union is demanding, the management’s change in attitude is understandable.

The union is demanding that the management drop its plan to adopt an early retirement and wage peak system that allows for a gradual pay cut when employees reach a certain age. It is also asking that dismissed union members be reinstated and that the current number of full-time union office workers be retained. The union’s demands are unrelated to current working conditions.

Retirement incentives are an inevitable part of the debt-ridden company’s plans to cut costs. The use of union muscle to hamper such a plan appears only to be a form of collective selfishness that shows no regard for their workplace.

The railway restructuring plan is a part of the government’s broader reform scheme on public entities and therefore beyond the control of company executives.

Reinstating union members charged for their participation in violent protests and rallies is also a matter to which the management cannot easily respond. If the management rehires employees discharged for illegal activities, they too would be disregarding the law. The management chose to break its agreement with the union because of the latter’s obstinate demands and continual threats of a strike.

Society should not tolerate being victimized by railway workers who repeatedly go on strike in service of their own interests. The strike is an outright challenge to the long-awaited reforms on public corporations that have the support of the majority of the population and therefore calls for stern countermeasures.

The government has identified the strike as illegal and the workers involved in the walkout will inevitably face legal action. The union must also be accountable for the losses, financial and otherwise, caused by the strike. The authorities should prepare to intervene in case the strike becomes protracted to minimize the discomfort to commuters.

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