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S. Koreans Workers Stage Walkout

Thousands of South Korean workers have staged a mass walkout to protest government proposals for a five-day work week. The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions says the measures also mean a reduction in holiday entitlements and lower incomes. The government has pledged to deal sternly with the strikers.

Members of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions stage a rally in the South Korean capital Tuesday. The confederation, the country's second-largest labor umbrella group, says around 120,000 workers from 200 companies have joined the strike. The Labor Ministry puts the figure at half that number. The industrial action has slowed work at some of South Korea's largest companies, including car makers Hyundai, Ssangyong and Kia.

The strike begins on the same day the National Assembly's environment and labor committee is holding a hearing on the five-day work week, cutting work hours to 40 from 44. The proposal is included in three labor laws the Assembly is considering.

The KCTU opposes the legislation because it also will cut annual leave by seven days to 25 days and trim overtime pay. The proposal is to gradually introduce the five-day working week over the next eight years.

The National Assembly has until the end of the current parliamentary session on Friday to vote on the bills, before they are pushed over to the next parliamentary session.

The South Korean government has declared the strike illegal and has shown its determination to deal sternly with strikers. Monday evening, police broke up a rally by public employees demanding better working conditions and union recognition. Local media reports say more than 700 protesters were taken into custody for questioning.

The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions says the government has gone back on its promise to allow public employees to form labor unions under the umbrella organization.

South Korea's labor groups are stepping up industrial action ahead of December's presidential elections. The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions warns the actions will grow if the government refuses its demand.