With strike, kids scramble for lunch

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With strike, kids scramble for lunch

Some temporary workers handling the free lunch programs at public schools went on a one-day strike yesterday, forcing schools and parents to hustle to feed their kids.

The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology said yesterday temporary workers at 933 out of 9,647 public elementary, middle, and high schools in Seoul, Gyeonggi, Incheon, Daejeon, Gwangju and Daegu went on strike demanding better working conditions.

The striking workers included nutritionists, cooks, librarians and day care teachers.

About 15,000 temporary workers from schools nationwide staged a rally in front of the Central Government Complex in Gwanghwamun, central Seoul, demanding the government adopt the salary step system, in which an employee receives salary increases in steps according to a contract until he or she reaches the top range for the position.

When the lunch break bell rang at 12:25 p.m. yesterday at Changdeok Girls’ Middle School in Jung District, central Seoul, a mother rushed to a classroom with a store-bought dosirak, or lunch box, to deliver to her ninth grade daughter.

“I wasn’t able to make my daughter’s lunch because I had to go to work early in the morning,” Hwang Ji-yeon, 42, told the JoongAng Ilbo. “I can do this for one day, but if the strike continues any longer, it will be a big nuisance for double-income families like ours.”

When the JoongAng Ilbo entered a classroom at the same school during lunch hour, some students were enjoying homemade lunch boxes while others had gimbap (seaweed-rice rolls) or sandwiches they purchased on their way to school.

“Some students didn’t bring lunches although we told them in advance to bring their own meals,” teacher Kim Dong-geon said.

“The free lunch program was provided to prevent students from skipping meals, but it seems like it isn’t working properly. We ordered lunch boxes or gimbap for students who didn’t bring their own.”

“I didn’t bring anything,” ninth grader Bae Yeon-ji said. “My parents were too busy to prepare my lunch as they both work. I will just buy instant noodles with money they gave me.”

The situation wasn’t so different at Dogok Elementary School in Gangnam District, southern Seoul.

When the lunch hour began, a teacher supervised students instead of telling them to go to the cafeteria.

“Please wash your hands and come back to the classroom,” teacher Heo Soo-hyun said.

“I like this,” Seo Yeong-hyun, a fourth grader, said. “My mom’s dosirak is more delicious than school meals.” Of a total of 27 students in the class, 15 brought homemade lunch boxes, while 12 brought gimbap or sandwiches. They finished meals while watching the movie “Home Alone 2.”

“We will take strong action against the strikers because they are interfering with students’ educations,” a spokesman for the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology said. “We will consider halting payment of their wages.”

By Lee Ga-hyeok, Kwon Sang-soo [sakwon80@joongang.co.kr]
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