Seoul rally on 11th day of Korail workers’ strike

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Seoul rally on 11th day of Korail workers’ strike

Railway workers from around the country descended on Seoul for a mass protest rally a day before the government is scheduled to approve its controversial plan for launching a new bullet train line operator.

Roughly 10,000 protestors held a rally at Seoul Station, including members of the Korean Railroad Corporation union from local branches, on the 11th day of a strike protesting the new train line operator, the longest rail strike in Korean history. The union claims Korail is attempting to stealthily privatize the state-run railways by setting up a new company to run a new KTX line departing from Suseo, Gyeonggi.

Korail insists it’s just part of efforts to salvage the debt-stricken company.

Despite a management ultimatum to return to work, 876 workers had come back as of yesterday at 9 a.m., 10 percent of the union members who walked off the job on Dec. 9.

The police also continued its investigation into the labor union. The North Gyeongsang police yesterday arrested a local leader of the union in Yeongju on suspicions of leading the strike and causing losses to the state-run company. The arrested leader, surnamed Yun, was the first to be picked up out of 25 union members that have arrest warrants out against them.

Lee Sung-han, the National Police Agency chief, ratcheted up pressure on the protestors. “This Korail strike is definitely an illegal strike in the name of protesting against privatization,” Lee told senior police officials during a video conference yesterday. “If they continue this illegal protest, we should request additional arrest warrants.”

The police yesterday raided six additional local offices of the Korail union members in Daejeon, Busan, Yeongju and Jeolla Province, following raids on the headquarters in Seoul on Tuesday. On the strike’s 11th day, the operation rate of Korail trains fell to 80.8 percent at 8 a.m. yesterday, the company said. Korail claimed the strike has already resulted in losses of about 7.7 billion won ($7.27 million).

The company has released a list of 145 workers who were suspected as leaders of the strike, and warned that management will penalize them.

According to Korail, the debt of the railroad company is estimated at 1.7 trillion won due to losses in overall business such as the Mugunghwa line, Saemaeul line and cargo transportation. The only profitable business for Korail is operations of the KTX bullet train lines.


BY KIM HEE-JIN [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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