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South Korean Hotel Workers Will Not Go On Strike - 2002-05-22

Hotel workers in South Korea say they will not go on strike on Wednesday as originally planned. But tens of thousands of workers in various industries say they will stop work, a move that could disrupt the World Cup matches that South Korea begins hosting with Japan next week.

Korea's Confederation of Trade Unions says a wave of walkouts will begin as planned, but without hotel workers.

Metal workers are the first to walk out this week, leaving their jobs Wednesday afternoon. Hospital workers and some taxi drivers will follow a few days later in what the trade unions confederation says will be an indefinite strike.

The South Korean government says it will take stern action against any labor protests during the World Cup. The first games are May 31st, and Seoul is afraid strikes will tarnish the event.

Demonstrations near World Cup-related facilities, including stadiums and hotels, have been banned. South Korean President Kim Dae-jung has appealed to potential strikers to defer walkouts until the soccer championship is over in about a month.

Paul Presler is a strategist with the Seoul office of Nomura Securities. He thinks the overall economic damage from a strike will be limited. "In general this will get absolutely no support from the population as a whole. I would not imagine that there will be very many sympathy strikes from industrial workers and such. I do not think it will have much of an effect on the overall economy. Clearly if service-oriented workers, especially in the hotels, go on strike it would be very disruptive," Mr. Presler said.

The confederation wants wage increases and a maximum 40-hour work-week. Unions also want the government to drop plans to turn some state industries into private companies.

The union representing hotel workers says it will not join the strike until May 30th, a day before the first World Cup matches begin. South Korea expects some 400,000 tourists during the world's largest sports event.

Tension escalated between the labor confederation and government last month when state-owned Korea Electric Power Corporation fired about 350 workers. They were accused of leading an illegal strike earlier this year. The unions say turning state-owned utilities into private companies will lead to mass layoffs.