Monday, July 26, 2004

Subway strike ending in South Korea

From Wednesday to Friday there was a strike on the underground system in four Korean cities, Seoul, Pusan, Inchon and Taegu. The strikes in Pusan and Taegu continued on Saturday and policemen were called in to help run trains in Seoul, according to Reuters.
The Korea Times reports today that the strikes are coming to an end with negotiated settlements in which management has promised higher pay in Pusan and better pay and conditions in Inchon. Details of the settlements in Seoul and Taegu are not given.
There are often strikes at this time of year in Korea. "This summer's labor disputes... started with the action of the hospital workers' union on June 10" according to the Korea Times. Workers have also taken action at KorAm Bank, Hyundai Motor, Kia Motors, Ssanyong Motoer and GM Daewoo Auto and Technology, as well as on the underground.
One strike is continuing, at LG Caltex, a joint venture between the huge Korean LG group and US oil company Chevron-Texaco, where workers have been out since 16th July. Korea has very determined unions who were a large part of the struggle that won democracy in the 80s and 90s, but labour laws are also formidable, a legacy of the dictatorship, still on the books like much of Korea's post-war public order legislation. Thus workers in the LG Caltex dispute face the prospect of being sacked legally:
Amid the developments in the labor disputes... unionized workers of LG Caltex have continued their walkout since July 16, even though the authorities Friday proposed settlement arbitration, which is legally binding.

The National Labor Relations Commission decided the company and the union should accept a 4.5 percent wage increase and 40 working hours per week. But the authorities' arbitration did not include labor's demands for the abolishment of discrimination against irregular workers and the establishment of social contribution funds.

The commission's arbitration is valid from midnight yesterday and any continuation of the walkout will be regarded as illegal by labor laws. However, as the union is pledging to continue the strikes in opposition to the arbitration, the striking workers are likely to face legal action.

The company ordered the striking workers to return to work by 8 a.m. Thursday. It plans to give lenient measures for those complying with the deadline, but those refusing the order may face dismissal in accordance with company regulations.
Article in the Korea Times dated 25/07/2004.

Of course this is not enough for investors, who have criticized the current government (which came out of the democracy movement, but now acts in a respectable manner, sending troops to Iraq for example). This is how Reuters puts it - making clear where their sympathy lies:
The wave of strikes has posed a test for President Roh Moo-hyun, a former labour lawyer who has been criticised by employers and foreign investors for being soft on the militant labour unions. South Korean authorities have had to deploy hundreds of substitute workers to try to maintain public services.

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