Jan. 2. The KCTU leadership started an indefinite hunger strike on this day. (by Kim Jeong-hyo
By Im In-tack, staff reporter
Korail plans to demand labor union payment for the costs of employing substitute workers during a recent Korean Railway Workers’ Union (KRWU) strike. The move is being called an irrational attempt by the government and a public enterprise to make the union pay for personnel decisions and costs. Korail and the government have claimed that hiring is their “exclusive managerial prerogative”.
Speaking in a telephone interview on Jan. 2, a Korail source said on condition of anonymity that Korail “plans to demand the union pay hiring and personnel costs” for 208 substitute workers who were hired during the strike and are currently undergoing standard training.
On Dec. 31, Korail filed suit with Seoul Seobu District Court to demand damages from the union and its members, claiming 15.2 billion won (US$14.5 million) in operating losses due to the strike.
“The 15.2 billion won for the substitute workers wasn’t included [in the claim],” said the source. “Once they’ve finished calculating, they plan to change the bill of indictment to demand more.”
The news prompted an immediate outcry from the KRWU. The argument was that if damages are granted, the union will end up paying out of its own coffers for the company to hire and train 208 scabs.
Previous “public enterprise normalization measures” ordered by the government, which has stressed the enterprises’ exclusive rights of hiring and management, were designed to amend collective wage bargaining provisions that allowed the unions to interfere.
Korail has relied on the military, private groups, and the Korea National University of Transportation to supply substitute workers during past strikes, but the December strike was the first time it had gone to the extent of officially recruiting and hiring replacement workers. The plan was an apparent attempt to push the union into calling off the strike.
Inflation of claim totals has been another running issue. In 2003, courts granted just 3.2 billion won (US$3.0 million) of a 7.5 billion won (US$7.1 million) claim for strike-related damages. A similar case in 2006 had only 7 billion won (US$6.7 million) of the 15 billion won (US$14.3 million) claim recognized.
In the case of a 2009 strike, the corporation initially demanded 9.7 billion won (US$9.2 million), but later lowered the figure to 4,855 million won (US$4.6 million) after subtracting unproven losses and wage payments to striking union members. That trial is still ongoing.
The legality of the strike is another point of contention. The Trade Union and Labor Relations Adjustment Act states that for legal strikes, new employees cannot be hired to perform the duties and damages cannot be claimed for strike-related losses.
Please direct questions or comments to [email@example.com]