Outside Korea, railway workers strike would be legal

Posted on : 2013-12-13 16:58 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
International observers endorse Korail workers’ steps to prevent rail privatization in South Korea
 chairman of the railroad subcommittee for the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF)
chairman of the railroad subcommittee for the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF)

By Lee Jung-gook, staff reporter

“If this were Norway, the strike the Korean Railway Workers’ Union (KRWU) is staging right now would be legal. It’s fair to apply international standards to a strike that is the result of government policies with an impact on working conditions and workers’ lives.”

This was the argument from Oystein Aslaksen, chairman of the railroad subcommittee for the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), speaking at a press conference on Dec. 12 at the offices of the Korean Confederation Trade Unions in central Seoul.

“If you look at past examples from Europe, KORAIL’s current actions to spin off the Suseo KTX corporation is a preliminary step in the privatization process,” Aslaksen said. “The KRWU is within its rights to hold a strike to block it, and we support its decision.”

Aslaksen also accused the South Korean government and KORAIL of stepping over the line in responding to the KRWU’s peaceful strike, saying the ITF plans to work with the International Labour Organization (ILO) to check for violations of international standards.

Karlson Lingwood, a member of the central executive committee for the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers in Britain, said the British example showed the result of railway privatization.

“British people today are being hit by fare hikes, and it’s had a bad influence on railway worker health and safety,” he said, adding that the organization plans to work in solidarity with the South Korean railway workers to block privatization.

The speakers at the press conference urged the South Korean government to enter dialogue to resolve the strike and seek a social consensus on railway restructuring. Aslaksen, who arrived in South Korea the day before, was among seven ITF officials who met with National Assembly Land, Infrastructure, and Transport Committee chairman Joo Seung-yong and Environment and Labor Committee chairman Shin Geh-ryoon on Dec. 12 to demand a halt to union suppressions.

Meanwhile, the KRWU ramped up its legal battle by lodging a complaint with the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office against twelve KORAIL directors for breach of trust by voting to approve the establishment of the Suseo KTX.

At a press conference before submitting the complaint, it argued that the decision itself was an example of breach of trust.

“Because of that decision, KORAIL’s financial situation is set to deteriorate, and the situation will continue without the possibility of improvement for the next several years,” it charged.

Earlier that day, an accident occurred at around 12:50 am when a wheel broke on a freight train traveling on the central line between Bibong and Tamni Stations in Uiseong, North Gyeongsang Province, resulting in the derailment of one carriage. It caused delays for two Mugunghwa trains, one for an hour and 33 minutes and the other for 48 minutes.

The KRWU blamed the accident on KORAIL’s actions.

“Freight trains are not subject to mandatory maintenance,” it said. “The accident happened because KORAIL overused the train and put in substitute workers.”


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