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(EDITORIAL from Korea Herald on Sept. 29)

All News 06:58 September 29, 2016

Transportation setback
Korail should propose talks to compromise, end strike

The joint strike by railroad and subway workers across the nation is raising concerns about disruptions to logistics and transport.

In protest against the government-led performance-based pay system, unionized workers of the railway and subway sectors launched a simultaneous walkout earlier this week. It marked the first time in more than 20 years that the two sectors' employees had gone on a joint strike.

A union leader from the railway industry claimed that the state-controlled railroad operator Korail revised the public company's wage system regulations in a lopsided manner to adopt the performance-based system without gaining consent from unionized workers.

The union is demanding that Korail come to the negotiating table instead of pushing ahead with a unilateral decision.

A subway union clarified that the walkout was meant to block excessive competition among workers, adding that performance-based pay would ultimately have a negative impact on citizens.

The merit pay system is also triggering severe opposition among workers in other sectors including commercial banks. The government needs to revise or fine-tune details after assessing the current competitiveness of each industry and their future outlook through further study and talks with the unions.

Besides placating workers, talks are urgent as it could help persuade them to suspend the strike.

The most serious situation can be seen in the logistics sector.

On Tuesday, the number of freight trains in operation plunged about 70 percent to reach 76 per day nationwide from an earlier average of 250. This certainly could affect other industrial sectors, including manufacturing.

Korail has to secure as many substitute workers as possible, alongside embarking on talks with the union. If an accident takes place during train operations, the strike may be prolonged. And the situation would become even worse if substitute or nonunion workers are not well-trained.

The government and Seoul City have come up with a set of emergency measures to minimize the impact of the walkout. Despite the strike, subways are operating normally during rush hour, with temporary substitute workers deployed.

During nonpeak hours, however, subway operations have been reduced by about 20 percent.

In the Seoul subway sector, more than 2,000 workers are participating in the strike, accounting for 30 percent of all subway workers from line Nos. 1 to 8 on Tuesday.

As for the passenger railways, while KTX high-speed trains are operating normally, only about 60 percent of Saemaeul-ho and Mugunghwa-ho trains are running.

Minister of Land, Infrastructure and Transport Minister Kang Ho-in has visited Seoul Station and urged union members to go back to work. He said the government "will act sternly based on law and principal in case of any illegal activities."

While a crackdown is important, punishment is not the fundamental solution to calming their angry sentiment.

It would be better for policymakers to provide a grace period before fully introducing the new wage system or adopt it on a step-by-step basis to minimize side effects.

As for the union, opposition for the sake of opposition is not convincing.

They should also acknowledge the need to expand flexibility in the labor market. It is undeniable that the public sector has enjoyed job security over the past decades compared to employees in the private sector.

The union, in close talks with policymakers, needs to seek ways to adopt the merit pay system as part of the public sector’s reform and development for the mid- and long-term.

Boosting labor flexibility means the creation of more jobs, in particular for the young generation amid the record high youth unemployment rate.

On the other hand, the union's assertion also has some truth to it as the wage scheme could be used to allow state-run companies to fire employees more easily by grading workers' performance periodically.

An effective compromise might be to establish a regulatory tool to limit reckless layoffs.

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