Seoul subway workers vote for strike plan

By Lee Jung-youn
Published : Oct. 16, 2023 - 17:30

Commuters board the subway train at Seoul Station, Sept. 18. (Yonhap)

The possibility of a strike became reality, as a majority of Seoul Metro union members voted for a strike plan to counter staff cuts, the collective negotiation team announced Monday. As Seoul Metro operates Seoul Subway Line Nos. 1 to 8 and a portion of Line No. 9, tensions are rising over the possible inconvenience to commuters.

The collective negotiation team -- comprising representatives of the Korean Public Service and Transport Workers’ Union under the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions and the Federation of Korean Public Trade Unions under the Federation of Korean Trade Unions – said that 73.4 percent of the workers approved the strike plan. The vote took place from Thursday to Monday.

Out of 14,049 union members, 11,386 people, or 81 percent, participated, with 8,356 in favor.

Seoul Metro and the collective negotiation team had conducted 10 rounds of negotiations since the initial round on July 11, but all discussions eventually collapsed. The negotiation team applied for mediation with the Seoul National Labor Relations Commission on Oct. 4. The commission is to hold a mediation meeting Tuesday and suggest a compromise for both parties.

If the mediation meeting fails to reach an agreement, the collective negotiation team will hold a press conference warning of the possibility of a strike at 10 a.m. on Wednesday in front of Seoul City Hall. A general meeting of union members to discuss the strike plan is scheduled for Thursday.

A workforce reduction plan is the major issue between the management and union. With Seoul Metro having suffered massive deficits for years, management contends it is inevitable to reduce manpower. The management proposed a plan to reduce 2,211 employees, or 13.5 percent of total workers, by 2026.

The labor union criticizes the management as passing responsibility for the deficit to workers, adding that excessive manpower reductions could directly lead to safety issues.

Earlier, the union held a strike for the first time in six years against Seoul Metro's workforce reduction plan on Nov. 30, 2022.

The strike caused mass confusion, delaying trains on Seoul Subway Line No. 2 for 33 minutes. Police personnel were deployed to crowded stations to prevent possible accidents. Negotiations concluded a day after the strike as Seoul Metro promised not to conduct forced restructuring to overcome its financial crisis.

By Lee Jung-youn (jy@heraldcorp.com)


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