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South Korea President Warns Striking Rail Workers - 2003-06-30

Striking railway workers in South Korea face threats of arrest and being fired if they remain off their jobs. The three-day protest, which has disrupted train services, was sparked by government plans to privatize the railway system.

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun warned on Monday that thousands of strikers would be dealt with according to the law.

The government has declared the railway strike illegal and senior officials have ruled out negotiations with labor unions.

South Korea's rail operator says it will fire workers who continue to strike now that a deadline to return to work on Sunday night passed.

But a labor expert at Seoul National University says union leaders are not deterred by the warnings. Economics Professor Kim Dae-il thinks the government is unlikely to follow through on its threats. "The government is saying that they will not tolerate any illegal activity, they will not negotiate with union workers because the strike is not legal right now. But the union workers, they don't believe that but instead they believe that the government will eventually come to the bargaining table and talk about the issue," he said.

Professor Kim also says union members see the current administration as sympathetic toward workers. He points out that President Roh was a labor lawyer who has called for a better balance between unions and plans to sell off government-owned companies.

About 22,000 workers have walked off the job. There are reports that police detained a thousand people following worker rallies on Saturday.

The railway operator has called in about 1,000 temporary workers to keep services running but commuters faced delays on Monday.

Union leaders called the three-day-old strike to resist government plans to turn the financially troubled railway system into a private company. Many workers fear that will lead to reduced benefits and wages.