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End of S. Korea's long-drawn-out railway strikes in sight

English.news.cn   2013-12-30 12:41:01            

SEOUL, Dec. 30 (Xinhua) -- South Korean rail workers have decided to end the three-week strike after the ruling and opposition parties agreed to set up a parliamentary subcommittee on banning rail privatization, lawmakers said on Monday.

"The union decided to withdraw the strike," Choi Eun-cheol, a spokesman for the labor union of the Korea Railroad Corp. (KORAIL), was quoted by Yonhap News Agency as saying. "The union will discuss the procedures in detail after reviewing the agreement."

More than 8,700 KORAIL workers walked off the job on Dec. 9 in a protest against the government's move to open a new subsidiary to operate the Suseo-dong High Speed Railway for the state-run rail operator, which unionists fear will result in privatization and layoffs.

Leaders of the rival parties on the parliamentary transportation committee on Sunday worked out a three-point agreement with Kim Myung-hwan, the union leader of KORAIL, which calls on strikers to return to work as soon as the subcommittee is formed.

The subcommittee, composed of lawmakers from the ruling Saenuri and the main opposition Democratic parties, is to ensure no privatization of rail service. A policy advisory panel can also be formed including officials from KORAIL, its union, the government and civilian experts, according to lawmakers.

It is reported that Kim signed the agreement around midnight Sunday to end the strike in exchange for the committee's establishment. The leaders previously declared that the protests will went on until Feb. 25, the first anniversary of the inauguration of President Park Geun-hye.

The government maintained that it has no intention of privatizing rail services and promised to withdraw the subsidiary' s rail service license if its stakes are sold to private sectors. But union leaders are skeptical about its assurance.

Local police and prosecutors said they will still insist on accountability for the unions leaders for the "illegal" strike regardless of the deal reached by the rival parties.

The rail operator vowed to give heavy punishment for 490 union leaders according to their involvement in the strike and downtime, according to KORAIL's spokesman Jang Jin-bok, who added that the company will also take legal actions to seek compensation for financial damages.

Local police have court-issued arrest warrants for 25 union leaders involved in the strike. Kim and several other union leaders have been taking refuge in Jogye Temple in downtown Seoul to evade arrest since last week.

"We will detain KORAIL union leader Kim Myung-hwan as soon as he comes out," a senior police officer was quoted by Yonhap as saying.

Prosecutors added that they will execute the arrest warrants for the strikers despite their decisions to withdraw the walkout.

On Saturday, thousands of rail workers and supporters rallied in downtown Seoul and marched into streets to oppose the government's move to open a new subsidiary for the state-run rail operator.

The labor union led the walkout till Saturday night after the government on late Friday issued a formal license for a new affiliate of South Korea's state-run Korea Railroad Corp. (KORAIL) that operates the new high-speed line from Suseo-dong in Seoul to the port city of Busan.

The union said that up to 100,000 people joined the strike, but local police put the number at 20,000.

Shouting "no privatization," protesters occasionally clashed with riot police, whose number is estimated to be 13,000. There have been no reports of injuries or arrests so far.

The labor union denounced the transportation ministry for " abruptly" issuing the "illegal" license regardless of workers' strong protests, saying it is "a declaration of war" against the people.

To find ways out to control the intensified conflict, South Korean Prime Minister Chung Hong-won held a meeting of related cabinet members, maintained that the goal of opening the new KORAIL affiliate is to benefit people by introducing competition mechanism to its rail industry.

Chung urged people to support the government's decision and hoped citizens could "endure the inconveniences for a little longer."

The large scale strike has affected high-speed KTX, ITX, subway and cargo train operations of the nation. KORAIL was forced to cut passenger train services by around 24 percent for the fifth day in a row on Friday. The daily amount of cargo shipments has also dropped to an average of 30 percent of the normal volume.

Editor: Liu Dan
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