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(LAED) Rail workers' strike disrupts freight service

All Headlines 17:05 November 26, 2009

(ATTN: RECASTS lead, headline; RESTRUCTURES; ADDS comments, details throughout)
By Kim Eun-jung

SEOUL, Nov. 26 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's railway union went on an indefinite strike Thursday, paralyzing freight services, after negotiations with the management over financial belt-tightening and working conditions fell through, company and union officials said.

At around 4 a.m., about 16,000 unionized workers of Korea Railroad (KORAIL), excluding essential staff for railway network operation and maintenance, launched the general strike, the third this year following the first in September and the second earlier this month.

No serious transit disruptions were reported as of Thursday afternoon as many replacement workers remained on duty despite the strike. Passenger trains were operating on a normal schedule, and metropolitan subways were running at 91.7 percent of regular capacity, according to KORAIL.

But freight train services were hit hard, with only 1.4 percent of daily capacity being handled, it said.

All shipping services at Uiwang Inland Container Depot (ICD) in Gyeonggi Province, a major inland logistics hub for the Seoul Metropolitan area, were halted on the first day of the strike, ICD officials said.

"Ahead of the walkout, we were notified by the KORAIL union that freight services will be suspended for the first three days," Jeong Dong-kwon, an official at ICD said. "Although we have made a contingency plan, the shipping services have been paralyzed and it doesn't seem like it will improve soon."

Union leaders said the strike follows disputes with management over pay and working conditions as well as union workers' rights and the reinstatement of fired workers.

"While negotiations were still underway, the company suddenly notified the cancellation of its previous collective agreement with labor on pay and working conditions. So the strike was unavoidable," the union said in a statement.

But the state-funded firm said the union's claim is neither true nor justifiable, adding the union had already notified it of the nationwide strike last week.

"Our staff will do their best efforts to normalize the train operation and minimize people's inconveniences during the walkout," a KORAIL official said.


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