| Unionized KORAIL workers agreed to end their prolonged strike Monday, a breakthrough that came 22 days after they took to the streets on December 9 in protest of a government plan to establish a KORAIL subsidiary to run part of KTX services. The government gained an upper hand as it adhered to the principle of reforming public institutions in lax management, and accepted the railway workers` de facto surrender. Accordingly, the Park Geun-hye administration`s public institution reform will likely gain momentum.
However, the longest-ever strike in the country`s history has caused passengers to experience severe inconveniences, calling the government, management and labor and the public to seek new solutions for easing social conflict.
Leading Saenuri Party lawmakers Lim Moo-sung and Kang Seok-ho, and main opposition Democratic Party lawmakers Park Ki-choon and Lee Yoon-seok, all of whom are members of the National Assembly`s Land and Transport Committee, said Monday, "Leaders of unionized rail workers agreed to end their strike after the ruling and opposition parties promised to form a parliamentary subcommittee on railway industry development." The subcommittee will be headed by Rep. Kang, and will be composed of eight members, including four leading party members and four opposition party members. It will handle pending issues on railway industry, and the leading and opposition parties agreed that procedures already in progress such as KTX subsidiary license issuance will not be reversed.
Unionized railway workers decided to withdraw strikes when the subcommittee is set up, and will return to work Tuesday. However, since engineers who joined the strike have to rest for two to three days for the sake of safe train operation, complete normalization will began on Thursday or Friday.
The strike ended but inflicted scratches on the Korean society. Due to reduction of train operations, subway lines No.1 to No.4 operated by KORAIL saw frequent breakdowns. On December 15, an 80-year-old woman died after she was caught in the train door at Government Complex Station at No.4 Line. Frictions can occur during the process of establishing a KORAIL subsidiary and since the recruitment of substitute workers that started during strikes is still under progress. Moreover, since the government and KORAIL will take legal actions against executives of unions who led the strike, there is possibility of conflict between management and labor.
At a meeting with senior secretaries at the Presidential Office, President Park said, "Reform is much more difficult than revolution," adding, "I hope that in the new year, collectivism that damages value and interest of a public community is refrained from, and a culture of respect and care takes root, for the development of a society based on co-prosperity and co-existence."
The Strategy and Finance Ministry regards the president`s remarks as her intent to apply "value war" of abiding by principles shared by the public to the public sector. Public institution reform had been promoted in previous administrations, but performance remained sluggish due to opposition by vested rights forces including labor unions at state-owned companies.
Public administration experts say they were able to measure the gravity of negative effects of unjustifiable strikes on the society. Park Jin, head of public institution research center at Korea Institute of Public Finance, said, "Since the government learned valuable lessons, it should not be dragged on by labor unions while granting support to executives observing the principle of transparent management, in order to prevent reckless strikes."