Korail union raided over rail strike

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Korail union raided over rail strike

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Subway trains that run on line No. 1 are parked yesterday at the Guro depot in Seoul. The labor union of Seoul Metro, which manages lines No. 1 to No. 4, plans to go on strike today to side with Korail’s union. [NEWSIS]

As the Korea Railroad Corporation strike went into its ninth day yesterday, making it the longest rail strike yet, police raided the offices of Korail’s labor union to verify if the walkout is legally justifiable.

A team of 30 investigators searched and confiscated computer hard drives and internal documents at three offices of the Korean Railway Workers’ Union in Seoul. The raid came after Korail filed complaints with police against the union. The company has accused the union of staging an illegal strike and neglecting work duties.

In its ninth day and after one fatality apparently attributed to the strike - an 84-year-old woman was killed Sunday when a subway car dragged her after a substitute worker closed the train doors prematurely - there were no signs of reconciliation or resolution.

The strike was spurred by the company’s decision to create a separate unit to run a new KTX bullet train line, a move the union calls a stealthy way of privatizing national rail services.Korail’s legal position is that the strike is not allowed by law because the union’s complaint has nothing to do with wages or working conditions.

Union members counter the argument by saying that any step toward privatization would definitely affect the employment conditions of rail workers and would probably lead to lower pay and worse job security.

The government and Korail say they aren’t trying to privatize the public railway company and that the new KTX line operator is only intended to boost competitiveness.

Law enforcement agencies, including the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office and the National Police Agency, held an emergency public safety meeting on Monday to discuss how to deal with the prolonged strike. The authorities dubbed the Korail strike illegal and vowed stronger measures against those involved.

“The [new operator] issue has nothing to do with their working conditions,” said Prosecutor Song Chan-yeop of the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office. “So the strike is illegal. We will respond sternly against such an illegal action based on the law and principles.”

With arrest warrants for 10 union leaders issued late Monday, police yesterday planned to arrest them while raiding the three offices. But the 10 leaders were nowhere to be found. Police said that they will keep searching for them.

The Seoul office of the International Transport Workers’ Federation said it will file complaints with the International Labor Organization if police arrest the union leaders.

The Korail union accused Korail and the authorities of attempting to silence workers and intimidate union members. “We can’t understand why the Park Geun-hye administration only tries to crack down, although we call for dialogue,” said Choi Eun-cheol, spokesperson of the union.

The strike will intensify when two unions of Seoul’s subway operator will go on strike today.

Members of the Seoul Subway Labor Union and Seoul Metro Subway Labor Union both called for a later retirement age and higher retirement payments.

While the Seoul Subway Labor Union, the largest trade union of Seoul Metro, sympathizes with the Korail union’s cause, the Seoul Metro Subway Labor Union said its strike is only concerned with the working conditions of subway workers.

The Seoul city government said it has hired enough substitute workers to maintain the normal schedule of subway lines No. 1 through No. 4. But if the subway workers’ walkout lasts more than eight days, services will be reduced to 90 percent of normal. If the strike continues for more than 15 days, the four subway lines will operate at 70 percent.

Freight and passenger services offered by Korail are being affected.

Yesterday was the first day that bullet train services were cut by 12 percent. Korail announced that it has halted 24 of 200 KTX trains running on weekdays and will suspend 24 of the usual 232 through the weekend.

Freight transport services are down to 36 percent of their normal volume.


BY PARK EUN-JEE [ejpark@joongang.co.kr]

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