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(LEAD) Labor union stages mass rally over minimum wage, irregular workers

All Headlines 16:39 June 30, 2017

(ATTN: RECASTS throughout with updates on rally; CHANGES photo)

SEOUL, June 29 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's major union group staged a massive rally in central Seoul on Friday over the minimum wage and the status of irregular workers, posing the first labor challenge to new liberal President Moon Jae-in.

Some 50,000 unionized workers nationwide affiliated with the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) gathered for a "social general strike" in Gwanghwamun Square, according to union officials. The KCTU represents over 40 percent of the country's union members.

"Today, we rise as a driving force of irregular workers who have been ignored and discriminated against, and treated as 'ghosts'. The social general strike goes for the irregular employees," Choi Jong-jin, interim chairman of the nation's second largest labor umbrella group, said.

Some 6,000 police officers were mobilized to guard the area and direct traffic.

The union calls for steps to eradicate discrimination against irregular workers and improve their working conditions. They also demand the minimum pay be raised by 54 percent to 10,000 won (US$8.73) per hour next year.

Moon promised better conditions of irregular workers during his campaign early this year. He also vowed to raise the minimum rate to 10,000 won by 2020.

In addition to job insecurity, various types of irregular workers are paid less and have poorer welfare benefits than full-time workers.

The one-day collective action is the largest in recent years and the first since Moon took office May 10, organizers said.

Businesses object to their demand for a minimum pay increase, citing the cost burden especially for smaller businesses.

On Thursday, a joint committee of business, labor and civic representatives had lengthy discussions on the minimum wage for next year but failed to reach an agreement. They have about two weeks until the legal deadline to set the new threshold.

Earlier this week, tens of thousands of contract workers at schools, such as caregivers, cleaners and cafeteria staff, went on a walkout. Some schools were forced to cut classes short for the day and students were made to go out for lunch.

Government data put the number of irregular workers such as part-timers and short-term contract employees at 6.3 million, who are on average paid 54 percent of full-time workers. The unions claim such workers total some 8.97 million.

Tens of thousands of unionized workers affiliated with the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), South Korea's major union group, crowd Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul on June 30, 2017, in a massive rally demanding reform for irregular workers. At the very top of the photo shows the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae. (Yonhap)


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