Two rounds of talks on Korail strike

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Two rounds of talks on Korail strike

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Park Tae-man, left, deputy Korail union leader, and Choi Yeon-hye, right, Korail president, meet 18 days after the union began a strike. Monk Dobeop, center, arranged the meeting inside the Buddhism Culture and History Museum. [NEWSIS]

Negotiations have finally restarted over Korea’s longest rail strike ever.

Choi Yeon-hye, president of the Korea Railroad Corporation (Korail), met yesterday afternoon with Park Tae-man, deputy Korail union leader, at the Buddhism Culture and History Museum in central Seoul, with Monk Dobeop of the Jogye Order serving as an intermediary.

Park fled to Jogye Temple on Christmas Eve with three other union members to avoid arrest during a police crackdown on the strike.

An hour later, talks between representatives of the company and the union began at the Korail office in Yongsan District, central Seoul.

While the results of the talks were not announced as of press time, Korail was reportedly expected to warn of stern though unspecified measures against the union.

The strike, which began on Dec. 9, entered its 18th day yesterday. There had been no talks between management and labor for 13 days.

Located near the Japanese Embassy in central Seoul, Jogye Temple is one of the most symbolic temples in the country. It has been perceived as a shelter from arrest by labor activists and is still considered off limits to the authorities.
“We’ve decided to form a committee to help resolve the conflicts between Korail and its labor union,” Monk Dobeop said.

The Buddhist order also released a statement expressing its intention to mediate. “[The order] can’t turn a blind eye to laborers who suffer hardships and seek the help of Buddha,” the statement said. “We’d like to protect them and help them [the striking workers and Korail] find a solution through dialogue. We believe this is the right thing to do.”

While supporters of the workers gathered around the temple, opponents from conservative groups also visited it to criticize the order’s interference. There were sporadic, minor scuffles between the two groups and police. Two union leaders have been arrested since a court issued arrest warrants for 25 union leaders earlier this month for orchestrating the strike, which the government claims is illegal.

The union is protesting Korail’s decision to set up a separate unit to run a new bullet train service, calling the move a sneaky way of privatizing Korail. The government and the president of Korail declared the walkout illegal because it had nothing to do with working conditions.

The government and the public railway operator maintain that the new operator will boost competitiveness and is not related to privatization.

The police made a violent raid on the headquarters of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions Sunday without a search warrant, drawing criticism from the labor union and the public. The raid totally backfired because police failed to arrest any union leader in the raid.


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

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