Korea Railroad threatens to fire striking workers
(The Associated Press circulated the following story on March 2.)
SEOUL, South Korea — Korea Railroad Corp. on Thursday ordered striking workers back on the job or else face punishment including possible dismissal. Police reportedly prepared to break up the strike by force if necessary.
The strike by about half of the company's unionized workers has severely curtailed nationwide passenger and freight service since it began Wednesday and has caused some commuter inconvenience in the capital, Seoul.
The government declared the strike illegal before it began, invoking a special power to stop labor unrest in industries deemed of critical economic and social importance. The workers went on strike anyway.
Talks aimed at ending the walkout have been unsuccessful.
Korea Railroad, or Korail, published the back-to-work order its Web site. It said the workers must return to their duty stations by 3 p.m. (0600 GMT) and that the gravity of punishment would depend on the time of return.
As of midmorning Thursday 11,231 of Korea Railroad Corp.'s 25,510-strong union were on strike, 12.5 percent lower than Wednesday. The strikers include 3,383 drivers - 47.2 percent of the total unionized drivers, Korail said.
Korail operates South Korea's nationwide passenger and freight rail network and some outlying sections of Seoul's subway network that extends into adjacent cities. A total of 2.6 million people ride Korail trains each day.
Police said they have issued arrest warrants for a total of 11 union leaders. No arrests have been reported.
Separately, Yonhap news agency, quoting police sources it did not identify, reported that police were preparing to move in and disperse the striking workers as early as later Thursday.
Some commuter inconvenience was as three of Seoul's eight subway lines run jointly with Korail trains from suburban areas. South Korean media reported the subways suffered more than usual crowding with some delays, though no major disruptions were seen.
Thursday also saw a sudden increase in passengers as most schools and universities resumed classes following the annual winter vacation. Also, Wednesday had been a national holiday.
To help operate trains, the company said it was using 1,027 nonunion workers, unionized workers who have declined to strike and military personnel.
The Korail workers are demanding higher wages, better working conditions and the rehiring of laid-off workers. The number of strikers is fluctuating, with some workers newly joining the strike and others returning to work, Korail said.
Korail said Thursday overall operations worsened as it was operating 35.4 percent of its total train services, including high-speech express KTX trains, regular long-distance service, freight trains and subways, compared with 42.7 percent Wednesday.
The strike came hours after the National Labor Relations Commission decided late Tuesday to arbitrate the dispute following the collapse of negotiations between railroad workers and management. Strikes technically are illegal when arbitration is under way, though labor groups in South Korea sometimes defy that rule.
The government has grown increasingly intolerant of strikes in the transportation sector and reserves the right to halt walkouts in industries deemed of critical importance.
Last year it twice invoked special powers to force an end to strikes by unionized pilots at Asiana Airlines Inc. and Korean Air Co., citing damage to the national economy.
Thursday, March 2, 2006
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