More strikes invite a train wreckThe Korea Railroad Corporation union’s strike is on a collision path with the government. President Park Geun-hye said a half-baked compromise will only lead to a disaster, reaffirming her signature “principled reaction” to the unauthorized walkout. As police raided the headquarters of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, of which the Korail union is a member, to arrest strike leaders, the union came forward with a slogan of “Government out!” signaling a general strike with the umbrella confederation on Saturday.
As the president and prime minister have repeatedly vowed, the government’s plan to launch a new high-speed train service in 2015 is not aimed at privatizing the debt-ridden public railway system but at introducing a healthy competitive system. If the union doesn’t believe the government’s pledge, it is caught in a malaise of “distrust with the government.”
Introduction of competitive systems for public entities is neither new nor ominous. After Seoul Subway set up the Seoul Metropolitan Rapid Transit Corporation in charge of lines No. 5, No. 6, No. 7 and No. 8 separate from Seoul Metro for lines No. 1, No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4, fares didn’t soar and service didn’t worsen. Instead, habitual political strikes by the two labor unions ended. After their separation several years ago, Incheon International Airport Corporation and Korea Airports Corporation have also been raking in profits.
The Korail labor union has staged seven strikes in 11 years. At every strike, the union gained substantial benefits by denouncing the government’s “parachute appointments” for executive positions and restructuring. That put the company into the red, yet employees enjoyed a hefty annual pay raise of 5.5 percent. Despite teetering on the brink of bankruptcy - as seen in the government’s infusion of 572 billion won ($539.2 million) in tax money last year alone - the company had a profligate bonus party with a maximum of 300 billion won each year. As a result, the average wage of its workers - 67 million won per year - exceeds that (63 million won) of the top 30 conglomerates.
If the Korail union jumps on the political bandwagon buoyed by groundless rumors, the corporation can’t survive. The introduction of the new KTX railway service is a first step to put the deficit-struck company back on track. More strikes will only invite a catastrophe. Politicians must spearhead efforts to avert a colossal clash between labor and management.