The beginning of railway reform

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The beginning of railway reform

The labor union of the Korea Railroad Corporation has ended its nationwide strike of 22 days in exchange for the creation of a subcommittee at the National Assembly for developing the railway industry. The ruling Saenuri Party and opposition Democratic Party played a big part in this by persuading the union to quit the prolonged walkout. But that’s only the beginning of the railway reforms.

The dramatic conclusion of the strike owes much to the patience of the people who had to endure many inconveniences. Despite the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions’ threat to enter a general strike to show its support, people disapproved of it - 61 percent against, according to a JoongAng Ilbo survey - which led nearly 30 percent of strikers returning to work.

President Park Geun-hye and the government’s adherence to law and principle deserves praise. Regardless of the union’s incessant warnings and threats, the government pressed ahead with its principled reactions. Along with the minister of land, infrastructure and transport’s stringent “no compromise” policy, Korail President Choi Yeon-hye’s boldness also proved its worth. She fired strikers from the first day of their walkout and hired 147 engineers immediately.

But some regrets remain. The government didn’t hold a single public hearing on establishing a subsidiary for the high-speed KTX train service, which gave the union the impression of “poor administration.” The following raid by police on the headquarters of the KCTU also soured feelings.

The problem begins now. The 22-day strike laid bare the real face of our railway industry. The lax management of Korail went beyond our imaginations, as evidenced by the more than 17 trillion won ($16.1 billion) of debt and 500 billion won of annual deficits. Despite using 700 billion won of people’s taxes just to stay afloat, employees have enjoyed hefty pay, nearly twice the average salaries of their counterparts in advanced countries. Yet the quality of their service was the lowest.

To solve the conundrum, more competition must be introduced. The new KTX train service will start to expose all the inefficiencies and irregularities that have long plagued the monopolistic system. The government and Korail must prove they can rejuvenate Korail through the subsidiary in Suseo-dong, and the union must do its best to put the embattled train service back on track.

The government also must hold the strikers accountable for all their damages to ensure against another unwarranted walkout. The government must correct the biases many have against privatization. One of the most strong and effective means of restructuring is privatization. The government must use the strike as an opportunity to redraw the blueprint for the national agenda.

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