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Some Hospital Workers Join Protests in South Korea - 2002-05-23

Some hospital workers in South Korea joined a walkout organized by the country's second largest labor organization. The South Korean president again is appealing to workers to hold off on strikes until after the country finishes hosting the World Cup soccer finals.

The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions says thousands of workers at hospitals across the country walked off their jobs Thursday morning. But there is wide disagreement between the unions and the Labor Ministry on just how many hospital workers went on strike. The hospital job action follows a walkout by some 31,000 metal and chemical workers who began striking on Wednesday.

The labor protest could turn out to be smaller than the militant trade group had envisioned. Some hospitals reached agreements with their workers on wages and other demands, averting walkouts. Also, some metal workers went back to their jobs after reaching agreements with management. And there is word than bank workers will not strike after reaching an accord with their bosses on a shorter working week.

Still, 12,000 taxi drivers are poised to strike, putting extra pressure on the government, just days before the World Cup soccer finals begin in South Korea and Japan.

Hundreds of thousands of tourists will be in Korea for the month-long tournament, and major strikes of transport or hotel workers could mar the World Cup events.

June Kim, marketing and sales executive at the JW Marriott hotel in Seoul says the staff at her hotel is ready to head off problems. "Even if we have some strike or any kind of traffic problem, it's not a big problem for our guests. We already have arrangements with the tourist information bureau or the Korea Tourist Association and also some main tourism agency for the traffic and shuttle [bus] and transportation to the southwest stadium and main stadium," Ms. Kim said.

President Kim Dae-jung, while welcoming the labor agreement in the financial sector, appealed again to other workers to avoid disrupting the world's biggest sporting event.

There does not appear to be much public sentiment for the workers, as South Korea moves into the sporting spotlight with Japan during the World Cup. Financial markets have not reacted to the walkouts, so far. But some analysts say a big and protracted strike could hurt the nation's credit rating and impede its economic growth.

South Korea's government vows to crack down on any disruptions by labor protestors during the World Cup. Officials also say they will act sternly against any illegal strikes in the public sector.