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(2nd LD) Police raid more KORAIL union offices

2013/12/19 15:48

SEOUL, Dec. 19 (Yonhap) -- Police raided four more offices of the state-run rail operator's labor union on Thursday as part of their investigation into an ongoing strike by thousands of union members, which the government calls illegal.

Armed with court-issued warrants, police seized computer hard drives and confidential documents during the simultaneous raid at the four regional head offices of the union of the Korea Railroad Corp. (KORAIL) in Daejeon, Busan, Suncheon and Yeongju, police said.

The raid came two days after police ransacked the union's headquarters near Yongsan Station in central Seoul and another office in the capital city.

"We began searching four regional head offices of the union this morning," said a police officer close to the investigation. "We plan to secure materials that can prove business interference and other charges against the union."

   Police also said they arrested one of the 25 strike leaders for whom the court issued arrest warrants on Thursday.

The arrest came hours after the police began tracking down the strike leaders, including the union head Kim Myung-hwan.

The police chief instructed a stern response to a prolonged strike.

"If this illegal strike goes on, we will have them face due legal measures after thoroughly investigating them," Lee Sung-han, the head of the National Police Agency, was quoted as saying during a video conference with provincial police chiefs around the country.

He also asked them to approach the upcoming massive rally of striking unionists "with a mind that any illegality will be pardoned."

   More than 6,500 unionized KORAIL workers walked off the job for the 11th day on Thursday, making it the longest rail strike ever in the country.

The workers are protesting the company's decision to set up a separate unit to operate a new bullet-train KTX line, a move the union says is a prelude to privatizing the national services that would result in massive layoffs and fare hikes.

The company has denied the claim, saying the new unit will be owned by KORAIL and state-run investors, and that private firms will never be allowed to hold stakes in it.

The new service will run from Suseo-dong in southern Seoul to the southern provincial city of Busan. After several delays, it is expected to begin operations in 2016.

Despite the union's request to delay issuing a state license for the new rail service, the government decided to grant the license as planned on Friday.

Rail services have been affected by the ongoing strike, as the operator was forced to cut its passenger services by an average of 17 percent and freight services by around 60 percent.

But if the strike continues, the frequency of KTX bullet trains and subway services in the capital area will be cut to 60 percent of the normal level beginning on Dec. 31, increasing inconvenience of customers.

The state-run rail company has responded toughly to what it calls an "illegal walkout," removing over 7,600 participants from their positions and filing charges against 190 strike leaders for causing "huge financial losses."

   It also gave an ultimatum to return to work by a deadline, 9 a.m. on Thursday. Sixty-two workers returned to work since then, bringing to 876 the total number of workers who returned to work since the strike began.

To protest the punitive measures, the union is scheduled to hold a large-scale rally in Seoul of its members from all over the country on Thursday.

In a related move, an alliance of 95 civic groups opposing the government moves to privatize public companies called a news conference in Seoul to urge the government to stop oppressing the rail workers' union.

"The government is oppressing railway workers denying allegations that the establishment of a KORAIL affiliate is part of a plan to privatize the railway service," they said in a joint statement. "We will keep the company from being privatized by doing all we can do, including a strike."

   The main opposition Democratic Party (DP) said the government should enact a law that bans the privatization of the national railway service.

"The government's hardline response to the strike would only aggravate the situation," Park Soo-hyun, DP floor spokesman, told reporters. "It should come up with institutional frameworks to prevent privatization such as a legislative revision to show its sincerity (toward settling the dispute)," he stressed.



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