Strike holding the public hostage
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Union members of Seoul Metro, which operates subway lines No. 1 to No. 8 and some sections of line No. 9, started a strike on Wednesday. After the corporation used replacements for unionized members, Seoul could avoid chaos, but temporarily. If the strike continues, the operating rate of the Seoul subway will fall to 50 percent to cause a crisis for public transport in the capital. If Korail — the operator of trains across the country and for outer sections of Seoul subway lines No. 1, 3, and 4 — joins the strike on Friday, commuters will suffer even more inconvenience.
Seoul Metro came up with a plan to lay off 1,539 workers by 2026 to help reduce its annual 1-trillion-won ($757.9 million) deficit from the Moon Jae-in administration’s decision in 2018 to put 1,285 contract workers on the permanent payroll. At a legislative audit of the corporation, it was found that a considerable number of workers related to full-time employees were hired. But the labor union demands the conservative Yoon Suk-yeol administration stop its restructuring plan and hire more workers.
You can hardly attribute Seoul Metro’s massive deficit to growing personnel cost alone. For instance, the free ride of senior citizens aged 65 and older resulted in 370.9 billion won of losses in 2019 alone. The government compensates some of Korail’s losses, but not Seoul Metro. A rapid increase in the population of the elderly will certainly exacerbate the financial plight of Seoul Metro further.
And yet, the strike cannot be justified particularly when many citizens fear trains packed with passengers after the deadly crowd crush in Itaewon before Halloween. It is not right for railway workers to take hostage commuter safety for their own interests. If the operation rate of trains drops further as the strike continues, congestion of trains and stations will reach dangerous levels.
The union’s hardline stance is wrong. The management of Seoul Metro took a step back by postponing its layoff plan for one year, but the labor union sticks with its earlier demand for a complete withdrawal of the plan, which reminds us of the belligerent way of Cargo Truckers Solidarity, which shut 508 construction sites across the country.
Another Seoul Metro union comprised of young workers opposes the hardline strike orchestrated by the combative umbrella Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU). Members of the moderate union representing the young generation did not join the strike. The young group criticized the KCTU for its politically-charged slogans such as “We oppose the Korea-U.S. joint drills!”
Labor unions are now engrossed with protecting their own interests instead of calling for human rights for workers as in the past. A great number of non-union members even suffer discrimination from relatively small-sized union members. A mighty union cannot survive if it does not change.
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