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Labor vows to fight Seoul policies

By Lim Bong-soo, JoongAng Ilbo, 18 October 2002

Unions in a range of industries are vowing to put up a tough fight against government plans to privatize key utilities and put the proposed five-day workweek system into law. The threats of work stoppages, observers say, could make labor relations a hot issue leading up to the Dec. 19 presidential election.

The labor union representing the workers of the Korea Gas Corp. said Thursday its members have voted to strike in protest of the government’s move to restructure the natural gas utility. Seoul’s plan aims to eventually privatize Korea Gas. The goal of the strike, union leaders said, is killing bills that are headed for the National Assembly later this month. As soon as committee deliberation on the bills starts, the union warned, the strike would begin.

Railroad and power workers, whose unions used work stoppages at the beginning of the year to protest privatization, may be set to begin another series of strikes. The unions organized task forces on Oct. 10 to prepare for a walk out. The railroad union is planning to hold a strike vote before year’s end.

The nation’s largest health care workers’ union is scheduled to hold a strike vote in early November on whether to walk out again after having suspended a prolonged work stoppage last month.

The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, one of two major umbrella labor groups, rallied Thursday in Myeong-dong, central Seoul, in protest of the government’s versions of bills on the 40-hour workweek, free-trade zones and public service labor unions. The Federation of Korean Trade Unions, the other major labor group, has scheduled a massive demonstration for Oct. 27 in conjunction with the confederation’s manufacturing chapters.

The government is ready for a fight. If it is a problem of labor relations and if management and labor are working to resolve their differences, we’ll try to help out, a Ministry of Labor official said. But illegal strikes will be dealt with according to the law, he said, hinting that the actions proposed by the unions are illegal. He added that force will be used if necessary.