Korail strike has no cause

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Korail strike has no cause

It has already been nearly a week since unionized employees of Korea Railroad Corporation (Korail) walked out, accusing the government of secretly pursuing the privatization of the country’s high-speed railway system. The disruption in rail service is causing immense public inconvenience and economic losses. A lengthy strike could jeopardize passenger safety and take a toll on the economy. A year-end logistics crisis is feared as freight transport shrank to 35 percent of its usual volume. The previous rail strike, which lasted eight days in 2009, disrupted the transport of over 70,000 tons of cement, translating into losses of 4.7 billion won ($4.5 million).

But the union, Korail and the government are engaged in a showdown without compromise. Korail filed charges to the police against 194 union leaders and dismissed 7,611 employees who are participating in the walkout. Hyun Oh-seok, deputy prime minister for the economy, said the government will deal sternly with the “illegal” strike.

The rail strike does not have a cause and won’t gain anything. The union suspects that a new KTX unit is a veiled government plan to privatize the high-speed railway operation. But the Suseo-Busan operation will be a wholly-owned public entity, with 41 percent owned by Korail and 59 percent by public funds. President Park Geun-hye, the deputy minister and the transport minister all denied plans to privatize the rail system. Korail CEO Choi Yeon-hye said she would block privatization even if she has to lie down on the railway. What more does the union need to hear? We can only question what its real motive is.

This is the union’s seventh strike since 2002. Strikes have been frequent because the government and Korail have tolerated the union’s demands. The union has abused its monopoly public status by holding people hostage. The company is 17.6 trillion won in debt, yet pays its employees an average of 58 million won a year. If its debt ratio of over 400 percent is maintained, the level could reach 900 percent by 2020. If it was a private company, it would have undergone a drastic restructuring. Yet the union demands an 8.1 percent increase in salaries. It also opposes any restructuring move even while the company wastes tax funds.

The union must cease its pointless strike and return to work. The longer it fights, the bigger the damage will be. Gone are the days when the public sector gained what it wanted through strikes. The public entities’ debt is larger than the country’s debt. The public will no longer tolerate state-funded companies getting fat from their taxes.

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