Corea, República de - Hundreds dismissed and 19 facing prosecution over railway strike

The state-run Korea Railroad Corporation (Korail) announced in October 2016 that it was prosecuting 19 union leaders for organising a strike. The company also suspended 218 strikers and began taking steps to punish those responsible for the walkout. It also announced it was hiring 500 additional workers.

The strike by railway and subway workers began on 27 September 2016 in protest at plans to introduce a merit-based salary system. The merit system was one of the Park Geun-hye administration’s key policies to boost labour “flexibility”, supposedly to create more jobs. Unions opposed the scheme, warning that it could enable companies to fire employees more easily and worsen working conditions.

According to the Ministry of Employment and Labour, some 23,500 members of the Korean Public Services and Transport Workers’ Union (KPTU) and ten public companies took part in the strike. They included 6,500 Korail employees, 1,760 Seoul Metro employees, 710 Seoul Metropolitan Rapid

Transit (SMRT) employees, and roughly 1,200 Busan Transportation Corporation (BTC) employees. The BTC suspended 841 of its workers on the second day of the strike for not responding to their demand to return to work. On 20 October, Korail issued an ultimatum, warning that those strikers who did not return to work the next day would face serious consequences. The vast majority of strikers did not respond to the threat, and the strike held firm.

The subway drivers ended their participation in the strike after a few days, but the railway workers’ strike continued into December. Finally, on 7 December the strike was called off. Korail said it had concluded a draft deal with the KPTU after two days of intensive negotiations, in which it was agreed to decide workers’ wages within the guidelines provided by the government.

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