Metro labor union threatens walkout if layoffs aren't called off
The labor union of Seoul Metro warned at a press conference on Monday that it will stage a full-scale walkout beginning on Sept. 14 if the subway operator proceeded with restructuring plans that entail mass layoffs.
At the Monday press briefing at the conference hall of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions in Seoul, the Seoul Metro union said it will go a strike unless the central government and the Seoul Metropolitan Government shelve the restructuring plan and take steps to improve the corporation’s financial standing instead of firing workers.
The press conference was also attended by five other subway union groups from Daegu, Busan, Daejeon, Gwangju and Incheon.
“We fight to stop wrong policies, not to stop subways,” said a union representative at the press conference. “But we will have no choice but to go on strike if our demands are not met and our efforts to engage negotiations are denied,” he warned.
At the heart of the disagreement between the subway company and the labor union are the appropriate ways to reduce Seoul Metro’s mounting operating losses.
The public transport corporation intends to lay off 1,539 of its 16,700 employees — a drastic 10 percent reduction of the workers on its payroll — in order to reduce its accumulated loss of more than 1 trillion won ($876 million).
The company also plans to reduce employee benefits, freeze wages and outsource some of its operations to the private sector.
The Seoul Metro labor union has demanded the Seoul city government cancel the planned layoffs.
The union blamed the losses on the subway’s policy of offering free rides for the elderly aged 65 or older, excessive transfer discounts and a freeze on subway fares which has been in place since 2015.
The union demanded the central government support the company by covering its losses and offering the same government subsidies as it does to the Korea Railroad Corporation (Korail). It also asked the operator to hire new workers to improve the quality of service.
By law, the central government covers 60 percent of Korail’s annual losses. The country's six subway systems have all suffered financial difficulties that have been exacerbated by declining commutes during the prolonged Covid-19 pandemic.
With the exception of Gwangju, subway labor unions across the country have overwhelmingly voted for a walkout should the Seoul Metro company proceed with the restructuring plan against its union’s opposition.
During a four-day vote among Seoul Metro’s unionized employees last week, 81.6 percent voted in favor of the strike. The vote was 68.6 percent in favor among Busan Metro unionized employees, while Incheon Metro’s unionized workers voted 82.8 percent in favor of a strike. Daegu and Daejeon’s subway unions voted 80.1 and 85.3 percent in favor of strike as well.
While the Seoul Metro union has expressed willingness to negotiate with the subway operator, the strike could result in serious disruptions in Seoul and other major cities should talks fail to resolve their disagreement.
The strike is scheduled to begin six days before the beginning of the Chuseok holiday weekend, and no end to the intended walkout period has been announced by the union.
BY MICHAEL LEE [firstname.lastname@example.org]