Police Begin Rounding Up Striking Rail Workers
* 2,200 Rail Workers Face Dismissal
* All Subway Lines, KTX to Be Normalized Saturday
The state-run train operator has stripped more than 2,200 striking rail workers of their posts since the union leadership continued a walkout for the third straight day Friday, disrupting the country's train services.
"We've decided to take stern disciplinary action against the strikers for taking part in the illegal walkout, to end the collective action,'' Lee Chul, president of Korea Railroad (Korail), said in a press conference.
He also said that there would be no more official negotiations until the unionists report back to duty, adding management would strictly deal with the strike in accordance with the law as they are holding the public "hostage'' to press for their demands.
Korail said the number of workers relieved of their posts was estimated at 2,244 - 1,857 on Friday and 387 on Thursday.
Police have also begun cracking down on the work stoppages, detaining 231 unionists on charges of illegally staging a sit-in protest in six union chapters across the country.
Police requested arrest warrants for 15 union representatives for playing a leading role in the strike. They had already obtained arrest warrants for 11 union leaders for masterminding the walkout.
Police also raided the union headquarters office in Yongsan, central Seoul, confiscating boxes of documents and computer files, while setting up a special arrest unit to apprehend 11 rail union leaders on charges of illegally organizing the collective action.
They are also set to detain some 250 female attendants of the Korea Train Express (KTX), the nation's bullet train, who have been protesting their unstable job security since last Saturday.
More striking workers are likely to be taken into police custody as the government renewed its warning against the strikers that it would mobilize all possible means to end the walkout, indicating a full-scale police crackdown is imminent.
In protest against the crackdown, the union requested that the National Commission for Human Rights investigate cases of police infringement on unionists' rights.
On Thursday, thousands of striking rail workers, who had been rallying at a train base in eastern Seoul, began to disperse, following threats of a police crackdown. They split into groups of 10 to stage sit-ins at their respective chapters to more effectively cope with the crackdown.
Korail said 26.9 percent or 3,456 of the striking workers returned to work, up from 19.3 percent or 2,476 the previous day.
It also said all the unionists at subway lines in Seoul and nearby regions in Kyonggido had gone back to work.
The government asked the unionists to return to work or face severe legal punishment, following an emergency meeting of labor-related ministers at the prime minister's office.
"We will do everything we can to minimize public inconvenience and the negative impact on the economy caused by the rail workers strike,'' said Kim Chang-ho, head of the Government Information Agency.
He said that the government would invoke the most severe legal punishment possible against unionists who continue to disrupt the train services.
But union leadership refused to call off the strike, denouncing tough actions taken by government and management against the striking workers.
"We are willing to hold negotiations with management to resolve the differences and end the walkout peacefully if management takes a friendly attitude toward the workers,'' the union said Friday in a news conference.
The union also asked government to create an environment in which both sides could resolve their differences on thorny issues.
It stressed that workers would continue the strike indefinitely unless the government withdraws its harsh stance and management reinstates reprimanded union workers.
However, the rail workers strike is losing momentum as a result of the decision of its parent labor umbrella group, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) to suspend its general strike, dealing a serious blow to the striking rail workers.
The KCTU ended the strike on Friday as the National Assembly chose to delay deliberations on a non-regular workers bill to an extra session in April.
But it will resume the strike again if the Assembly tries to pass the bill through the plenary session.
In addition, the collective action is weakening as more striking workers return to work in the face of the police crackdown and management's tough stance, brightening prospects for an early return to normal railway operations.
Commuters in Seoul and nearby areas continued to experience difficulties going to and from work due to the reduced subway operations.
Some commuters took buses or taxis rather than ride crowded subway trains running at two to three times longer intervals than usual.
Operations on subway lines 1, 3 and 4 in Seoul and nearby areas were cut by some 60 percent due to the stoppage. Korail operates these lines in association with Seoul Metro Subway, which averted a strike by its workers early Wednesday morning.
The strike also disrupted passenger and freight services across the country, forcing people to find alternative transport and causing financial losses to companies reliant on rail transport.
The KTX operated at about 45 percent of daily capacity, with regular passenger train services falling to 19.3 percent, forcing people to use alternative transports, including express buses and airplanes.
Companies also had trouble shipping their products across the country, with freight train operations falling to 16.1 percent, resulting in a great deal of economic loss.
Many shipping, cement and oil firms were busy finding alternative transportation means, such as trucks and ships, as approximately half of the container-carrying trains from Pusan to Seoul were canceled due to the strike.
Overall, Korail operated about 44 percent of its passenger and freight services on the third day of the strike.