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S. Korean Rail Workers Return to Work - 2003-07-01

South Korean rail workers are returning to work Tuesday following a vote by union members to end their four-day strike. Government pressure had many workers back on the job even before the vote was taken.

Employees of South Korea's state-run railway have decided to end a strike that had cut train service by more than half since it began Saturday. The move provides welcome relief to the country's rail commuters and to the many businesses that depend on the Korean National Railroad's freight service.

One union leader was quoted by Reuters News Agency as saying public inconvenience was the main reason behind the return to work. However, the end of the strike comes amid intense pressure from the government, including the firing of some of the railway labor leaders and threats to fire many more.

The government declared the strike illegal, and set last Sunday as a deadline for the workers to return to work or face dismissal.

The country's new president, Roh Moo-hyun, took a tough stance on the issue, saying he would not tolerate what he called "illegal actions."

Even as the rail workers' union met to vote on whether to go back on the job Tuesday, some employees had already taken matters into their own hands and returned to work - Reuters reported that more than half of the strikers were already back on the job.

At least eight-thousand workers had walked out over a plan to restructure the state-run Korean National Railroad, turning it into a public corporation.

The plan is expected to result in job cuts, something the rail workers said violated previous government promises for improved wages and working conditions.