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(2nd LD) Rail operator OKs plan for new high-speed train unit

All Headlines 21:17 December 10, 2013
Crowds in strike-hit rail station

(2nd LD) Rail operator OKs plan for new high-speed train unit
(ATTN: UPDATES with more information in 14,15 paras)

SEOUL, Dec. 10 (Yonhap) -- The state rail operator on Tuesday approved a controversial plan to set up a subsidiary for new high-speed train operations, deepening its conflict with thousands of striking workers who call it a prelude to privatization.

The decision, approved by the board of directors of Korea Railroad Corp. (KORAIL), came a day after the labor union launched a strike against the establishment of the affiliate that will be in charge of running the Suseo line departing from southern Seoul.

Suseo has been selected as the terminal of a new 61-kilometer high-speed railroad running south to the city of Pyeongtaek to connect with the existing Gyeongbu line to Busan.

After several delays, it is expected to begin operations in 2016.

KORAIL workers have criticized the move as the first step to privatizing the state-run firm, which could result in mass layoffs and fare hikes.

Rally of striking rail workers

Stressing that the decision is aimed at improving efficiency, the management has stated that the new unit will be owned by KORAIL and that private firms will never be allowed to buy stakes in it.

During the board meeting on Tuesday, its 12 members present unanimously endorsed the proposal, paving the way for the launch of the affiliate.

"The establishment of the new entity is a chance for KORAIL to improve efficiency and the quality of our service and to boost our competitiveness," said its head Choi Yeon-hye.

"Joining the illegal strike does good to nobody," she said, calling on the workers to return to work.

In a press release, the management said its decision "put an end to the privatization controversy," indicating that it would not reverse its course.

Bashing the management for its "unilateral decision that violates the law and hurts national interests," some 1,000 unionized workers of the rail operator vowed to "continue to fight to deter the privatization ploy" in their rally in Seoul.

Rail workers walk out

"We will resort to every possible means to deter them. Tomorrow, we will file a petition with the court here in Daejeon to suspend the validity of the decision, and sue the directors for the breach of trust," said a member of the Korean Railway Workers' Union.

An association of 922 civic groups also held a press conference in Seoul Tuesday and claimed the decision should be nullified as most of the board members fail to meet the qualifications for the post.

Later in the day, the KORAIL management announced that it had removed 1,585 striking workers from their positions, in addition to the 4,356 earlier relieved of their duties.

The 5,941 unionized KORAIL workers will soon be referred to a disciplinary committee, it said, adding that they are likely to be reprimanded for the "illegal strike."

Despite the ongoing strike, no major disruptions to passenger train services were reported as most KTX bullet train services and subways were operating normally.

But the strike began to partially affect cargo train services, with their operation declining to around half of the ordinary level, according to the company.


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