Korail’s illegal strikeThousands of rail workers Monday went on the country’s first strike in four years for the public railway system, disrupting operations of normal passengers and cargo services. Workers on the bullet train service KTX and railways around the capital were excluded from the walkout to minimize inconveniences. The workers are striking against a new line that will be run by a new operator, which the union suspects is the first step to privatizing the nation’s high-speed rail system. If labor disputes and strikes drag on, railway services could be affected and safety problems could occur.
The rail union is authorized to strike for a just cause even at the expense of inconvenience to the public and economic losses. But the reason for the union’s strike is not even an issue of labor negotiations, so it doesn’t quite make sense. The union decided to stage the strike in protest of a plan by the government and the state-run Korea Railroad Corporation (Korail) to launch a subsidiary to run a new high-speed railway service from Suseo-dong, southeast of Seoul, to Busan in 2015.
The new subsidiary running the Suseo high-speed rail service would be 41 percent owned by Korail and 59 percent by public sector companies. In other words, it will be as wholly stated-owned as Korail is. The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport and Korail reiterated that the Suseo KTX will remain a state-funded entity. But the union refuses to believe their words and went on strike. The strike doesn’t make sense because it is based on fears that may never come true.
A strike without a good cause won’t generate public support or sympathy. It will only draw criticism that public railway workers are trying to avoid competition, or that they are acting like slaves under the umbrella of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions to fight on its behalf against potential privatization of state-run institutions that would cause layoffs.
The government and Korail labeled the collective action illegal, and plan to take measures against it. Korail has already filed complaints against the ringleaders of the strike and the chairman of the union. They won’t respond to the union’s demands nor tolerate such an illegal strike. The railway union must immediately stop the strike by ruminating on how irresponsible its act looks in the eyes of the public.