Korail unionists report to police; 13 still at large

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Korail unionists report to police; 13 still at large

More than a dozen leaders of the Korean Railroad Corporation’s labor union appeared before the police for questioning on Saturday after about a week of being on the run since the group’s 22-day walkout ended Dec. 30.

With 16 Korail union leaders turning themselves in to the authorities, police now have custody of 22, six of whom have been indicted for the strike.

Their voluntary appearance has put the number of union leaders still at large at 13. That includes Kim Myung-hwan, the union’s president, and Park Tae-man, its deputy leader.

The 13 men still in hiding are considered to be the group’s core leadership. None of them has so far indicated when they will report for their summons for having orchestrated the longest rail strike in Korean history.

On Dec. 9, some 8,800 union workers began a nationwide strike in protest of what they claimed was Korail’s plan to stealthily privatize a bullet train service linking Suseo-dong, in southeastern Seoul, with Busan by forming a subsidiary to run the rail service. The train line was anticipated to be highly profitable once in operation in 2016.

The government and the state-run operator have continued to deny the privatization allegations and declared the union’s massive strike illegal.

The union ended its walkout on Dec. 30 and agreed to return to work in exchange for the formation of a parliamentary subcommittee. The panel, made up of representatives from the ruling Saenuri Party and the opposition Democratic Party, is tasked with coming up with solutions for issues surrounding the Suseo-Busan line and the railway industry.

In regard to the 13 leaders still at large, a union official said that they will decide when to report to police after watching how the government and Korail manages the aftermath of the strike. They will specifically monitor the level of punishment handed out to the other 22 unionists as well as wage negotiations for 2014.

Jang Jin-bok, the spokesperson of Korail, said the company will have no further discussions with the union in regard to raising wages because the union did not respond to the company’s proposal to freeze wages in late 2013, which led Korail to conclude that negotiations were over.

The state-run company will hold a disciplinary committee to determine punishment for about 7,790 employees who participated in the strike.

The police said it plans to ask the prosecution to request pre-trial detention warrants from the court for the 16 unionists who turned themselves in on Saturday.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]

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