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South Korea's State-Run Power Supplier Threatens to Fire Protesters - 2002-03-25

South Korea's state-run power supplier said Monday it would go ahead with a threat to fire 3,000 workers who are striking to protest government privatization plans. The workers offered to talk with the government, but rule out compromising in their opposition to the government's privatization plans.

South Korea's state power utility said Monday it was taking disciplinary action against more than 3,000 power workers. It has scheduled a meeting on the third of April to provide more information on the dismissal plans, which will affect employees at all of the country's five thermal power plants.

The workers, who went on strike February 25th, failed to report to work on Monday morning in defiance of a government-set deadline to either return to work or face dismissal. The government says the strike is illegal.

The power workers' union, which organized the strike, offered Monday to reopen talks with the government. But it said privatization of the utilities, which is the cause of the strike, is non-negotiable.

But the sell-off of the power industry and other inefficient state companies is a central element of President Kim Dae-jung's economic reform agenda during his last year in office.

Economist Lee Phil-sing of Korea University says both sides need to cooperate to avoid further unrest. "The workers are now too angry and will not accept any threats or compromise. The only thing that can stop this confusion is for the company to hold-off on firing workers and start compromising and restart talks," Mr. Lee said. Earlier Monday, thousands of riot police poured onto the campus of Seoul's Yonsei University to stop thousands of workers from demonstrating. Witnesses say they detained more than 100 protesters.

The raid followed clashes on Sunday between labor activists and police, who battled as the police tried to break-up the demonstrations. Students hurled firebombs at police, who fought back with truncheons.