SEOUL: According to trade union groups, more than 200,000 union workers have rallied in central Seoul in response to a nationwide general strike call against the South Korean government's labour reforms.
But authorities estimate the numbers were much lower at about 43,000, and have declared the rally illegal. The government has also warned that rally participants will face legal action.
These workers are from various trade unions in different sectors - like construction sites, factories and supermarkets.
Photo: AFP/Jung Yeon-Je
The workers here say they are not here to demand higher wages or better working conditions. What they are demanding for is that the Government halts plans to overhaul the country's labour market, which they say will benefit only the employers in dealing with labour issues.
The protesters belong to the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), one of the country's two largest union umbrellas. They are against the Government’s push for a more flexible labour market – that could make it easier for employers to sack workers.
Photo: AFP/Jung Yeon-Je)
They also want the government to scrap its controversial pension reform plan for public officials, and they have demanded the minimum wage be nearly doubled to 10,000 won per hour – about US$9.20.
Head of the Trade Union Han Sang-kyun has vowed to fight until the Government meets their demands.
"269,044 fellow union members of KCTU participated in the general strike today. Comrades, although the beginning is weak, I believe we can bring an end to this regime - are you with me!"
The rally went ahead despite the government warning a day before that it was illegal.
"The government will hold responsible those who defame the state discipline, hold strikes, or civil servants who participate in illegal collective action. The Government will take disciplinary and judicial measures, no matter how minor the act is," said Jeong Jong-seop, Government Administration and Home Minister.
Teachers and government workers were among those taking part in the demonstrations.
According to umbrella group the Korean Federation of Trade Unions, about 260,000 unionised workers joined the one-day walkout in about 2,800 workplaces across the country. These workers have threatened to stage more rallies and strikes in the coming days.