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South Korean Union Threatens Strike Over Proposed Work Week Reduction - 2002-11-04

One of South Korea's largest trade unions has threatened to a general strike if the government goes ahead with its proposal for a five-day work week. The union says the proposals will reduce the number of public holidays and damage working conditions.

The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, South Korea's second largest labor group, wants the government to drop plans to cut the work week from 44 hours to 40 hours. It says the current bill, which is being debated in the National Assembly, would reduce the number of public holidays, hitting workers' income and leisure time.

The KCTU, which boasts almost 650,000 members, says it will call a general strike, starting Tuesday. That is when the National Assembly is scheduled to hold a hearing on the issue with plans to vote before the current parliamentary session ends Friday.

As many as a 100,000 industrial workers could walk off the job, impacting some of South Korea's largest firms, including Hyundai, Kia, and Ssangyong. South Korea's labor minister says such a strike action would be illegal and he is threatening tough action if the walkout goes ahead.

Meanwhile, civil servants are rallying in Seoul to demand better working conditions and for the government to recognize their union. The existing Korean Government Employees Union is not an official grouping, leaving members without strong collective bargaining rights and outlawing strikes.

Workers' groups have been stepping up pressure on the government to meet their demands, ahead of the presidential election on December 19.