Korail is managed in a lax way, claims gov’t

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Korail is managed in a lax way, claims gov’t

The government has belatedly launched an operation to sway public sentiment against the Korea Railroad Corporation (Korail) strike, the union’s longest ever.

The Blue House and related ministries are trying to tackle negative public sentiment about its handling of the strike by saying that the public company has been laxly managed.

With the Korail strike reaching its 18th day yesterday, Minister of Strategy and Finance Hyun Oh-seok issued a statement entitled “A message to the citizens for the economy and stabilization of livelihood.”

It read: “Continuing this unjustifiable strike is a risky act that severs an artery of the national economy and cools off the embers of a resuscitating economic recovery.

“Should we make up for the snowballing losses caused by careless management with taxpayers’ precious money?” it continued.

The statement emphasized high salaries given to Korail workers and said that sons and daughters of workers also get jobs at the company, which it said was proof of its lax management.

The strike is over Korail’s plan to set up a new company to run a new KTX line departing from Suseo-dong, southern Seoul.

Management and the government claim they want to bring greater efficiency to the railways through competition, while Korail’s union says the plan is a stealthy privatization of the railway system.

A high-ranking government official said Hyun’s decision to release the statement was spurred by President Park Geun-hye.

“President Park reprimanded related ministers for considering the Korail strike as someone else’s affair,” he said.

The president allegedly ordered the finance minister to explain in detail how and why the Korail subsidiary will help the nation, according to the official.

The prolonging of the strike, which kicked off Nov. 9, is partly the fault of the government failing to deal with it in a timely manner.

During two previous strikes in 2003 and 2009, public opinion tilted in favor of the government, even though it took a tough stance on the workers.

In 2003, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport managed to curtail the strike by sending an email to 150,000 social leaders on the second day of the strike asking them not to encourage “illegal group activity.” The minister also said he would “strictly cope with the illegal strike” and asked citizens to put up with some inconvenience.

In 2009, the government sent a notice before the Korail strike to the businesses that use freight services, telling them to use alternative transportation during the strike.

This time around, ministries merely repeated the message that the setting up of the new subsidiary had nothing to do with privatization of Korean railroads.

“At the initial stage of the strike, the controversy over privatization was predominant,” said a Blue House official. “But now an increasing number of citizens are criticizing the Korail workers who have enjoyed a lot of benefits. Time will tell who is right.”

BY HUH JIN, SEO JI-EUN [spring@joongang.co.kr]

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