Saturday, March 04, 2006

SouthKorea: Railway workers on strike arrested

Saturday, March 04 2006

Walkout loses steam on third day as more unionists back on job Railway workers on strike arrested

About 230 railway workers were arrested and thousands more suspended from their jobs yesterday as the railway workers' union extended its strike to a third day crippling passenger and cargo transport across the country.

Their walkout showed signs of losing strength as a quarter of strikers returned to work in the face of threatened dismissal and an umbrella labor group also halted its separate general strike.

In its first action since the strike began on Wednesday, police took 231 strikers into custody from raids carried out on six sites. Investigators also seized documents and computer files from three offices of the Korean Railway Workers' Union in Seoul.

The strike had been declared illegal by the government on Tuesday when it imposed emergency arbitration, under which all collective actions are banned for a 15 day cooling off period.

Putting even more pressure on the strikers, the state run Korea Railroad Corp. suspended the jobs of 2,244 workers who refused to return to work.

KORAIL President Lee Chul yesterday told reporters "we will continue to meet the labor union, but there will be neither official nor unofficial negotiations."

The government reiterated its tough stance as Kim Chang ho, head of the Government Information Agency, said it was considering "all possible measures" to deal with the illegal strike.

About half of the 25,510 member union went on strike Wednesday, demanding, among other things, the reinstatement of former employees sacked for their involvement in previous illegal strikes.

The Ministry of Construction and Transportation said nearly 4,000, or 30 percent, of the strikers returned to duty yesterday afternoon. About 22.8 percent of striking train drivers resumed work yesterday, a jump from 4 percent the day before.

Their return somewhat improved transport services but citizens continued to suffer from inconveniences as only 45 percent of railway operations was back to normal, according to the company.

The union leaders reacted angrily saying the stern measures by the government and management will only aggravate the situation. They warned of a prolonged struggle.

The union, however, lost support from its powerful alliance. The nation's second largest labor umbrella group declared a halt to its three day general strike after the National Assembly postponed acting on controversial bills on nonregular workers on Thursday.

The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions said that their protest could be resumed if lawmakers attempt to pass the bills in the April extraordinary parliamentary session.

Fears about further disruption of cargo movements were heightened as the nationwide truckers' union threatened to step up action from next Monday. They are bargaining with cargo companies over fees and will decide tomorrow whether or not to go on strike, it said.


By Jin Hyun joo

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