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Labor federation calls for strikes

By Kim Ki-chan <jackkim@joongang.co.kr>, JoongAng Ilbo, 6 March 2003

The spring labor struggle appears to have begun.

The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions has called for a series of strikes beginning with a general strike by the Korea Metal Workers Federation. The federation counts several large unions as members, including those at four auto manufacturers and at Doosan Heavy Industries and Construction Co., which is embroiled in a bitter labor dispute.

The standoff at Doosan triggered the self-immolation death of one worker there and exchanges of law suits and criminal charges despite the government’s efforts to mediate. Workers at Hyundai Motor and Kia Motors have voted to strike, and more than 90,000 workers at 110 companies have also approved strike plans. Voting is under way at dozens of other companies, including Ssangyong Motors.

But even before the strikes get under way, the confederation said it would send a team of 2,300 activists to join the fight at Doosan. The federation of public transportation workers and the federation of teachers and professors’ unions are planning rallies on March 15. The public service employees’ union will rally in Seoul on March 23.

The Federation of Korean Trade Unions, the country’s other major labor federation, is not calling for strikes now, saying it wants collective bargaining to proceed through April and decide in May on possible job actions in June.

A Ministry of Labor official said labor relations have been particularly tough this year even before the labor federation issued its strike calls.

The Korea Employers Federation, an employers’ organization, is advising its member companies to stand firm against illegal union activities, telling them to use the courts to seek damages caused by such walkouts.