Illegal strikes will have a price

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Illegal strikes will have a price

The Korean Railroad Corporation has filed a lawsuit against the railway’s striking union, claiming 7.7 trillion won ($7.3 billion) in losses from the ongoing rail strike, the longest in Korail history. The public railway operator plans to ratchet up the amount of damages being claimed as long as the union continues the general strike.

In a few more days, unionized workers could face fines of more than 10 trillion won. The strong action underscores the resolute will of the government and railway authority in dealing with illegal labor action.

A court ruling already delivered a warning against unauthorized strikes that cause huge losses for corporate or public assets and disturb society. An Ulsan court ordered unionized workers at Hyundai Motor, the country’s largest automaker, to pay 9 billion won in damages for an unlawful occupation of a work site. It is the largest-ever corporate compensation reward from a lawsuit against illegal labor activities.

In 2010, members of a union representing temporary workers on Hyundai Motor’s assembly lines occupied Hyundai’s industrial site in Ulsan for 25 days, demanding they be upgraded to permanent status.

The sit-in caused losses of 326.9 billion won for the company due to disrupted production. The district court said the strike activities went beyond a socially acceptable level and therefore could be deemed unjust and a danger to society.

Domestic courts have been ruling strongly against unlawful labor activities. Last month, a district court in Suwon ordered members of a Ssangyong Motor union to compensate corporate and police damages worth 4.6 billion won.

Ssangyong Motor workers staged a three-month strike at its factory in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi, in protest of the massive layoffs, leading to violent clashes between workers and the police. The Supreme Court in 2011 ordered railway workers to pay 6.9 billion won in compensation for public freight and passenger transport losses from a walkout.

Labor relations are best resolved through negotiations. Labor activities can be dampened if lawsuits play a major role.

But public and large companies have to seek legal accountability for illegal labor activities because of their ramifications on the economy and the lives of Korea’s civilians. The court and employers have to crack down on unjust and unlawful labor actions. The railway workers should draw a lesson from this large lawsuit and cease their illegal walkout immediately.

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