- POSTED: 16 Dec 2013 19:03
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Thousands of rail workers have been on strike for a week in South Korea to protest against the government's plan to privatise the rail network.
SEOUL: Thousands of rail workers have been on strike for a week in South Korea -- they are protesting against the government's plan to set up a new rail operator in a bid to privatise the network.
The Korea Railroad Corporation -- KORAIL -- has refused to hold negotiations with the workers until they return to work immediately.
Braving cold temperatures over the weekend, unionised rail workers held a rally in central Seoul urging the management to come forward for negotiations
"The government and the management have until midnight of the 17th to agree and come to the negotiating table," said Kim Myung-hwan, head of the Rail Workers Union.
However, the management has made it clear that the workers have to call off the illegal strike first.
"KORAIL is now suffering from huge losses. It has to be reformed. The union should also not be afraid of changes. We are not willing to budge unless this strike is called off," said KORAIL spokesman Jang Jin-bok
More than 6,500 rail workers walked out of their jobs last Monday to protest the government's decision to set up an affiliate under Korea Railroad to deal with a new route that will open in 2015 for the country's high speed railway system KTX.
By Saturday, the number of striking workers had increased to 8,600 -- about 38 per cent of the 20,400 employees on Korea Railroad's payroll.
The union believes that the plan to set up the affiliate is a step towards privatising the rail operator in the future, which they argue would then lead to mass layoffs.
The government and the management have denied those claims and said that the new subsidiary is intended to boost competitiveness and reduce the burden for the debt-ridden public company.
Meanwhile, the number of high-speed train services and subways have been reduced.
Part-time workers and interns have been brought in to take over some of the workload amid worries over the safety of passengers
With both sides refusing to budge, it does not look like there will be any negotiations for the time being.
In addition, there are rising concerns that the situation could get worse.
Prosecutors are seeking arrest warrants for 10 of the unionised rail workers while the union has threatened to hold another massive rally on December 19 -- the first anniversary of President Park Geun-hye’s election as the country's first female president.