- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 21, 2002

From combined dispatches
SEOUL South Korea's second-largest labor group threatened yesterday to call a nationwide strike during the World Cup unless the government stops its crackdown on striking power workers.
The warning from the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions comes amid widespread concerns of labor strife during the May 31-June 30 soccer tournament that South Korea will co-host with Japan.
About 70,000 health workers, metal workers and heavy-industry workers will walk out beginning tomorrow to make their demands, the confederation said in a statement.
"If the government does not stop its crackdown on workers, we will launch a strong struggle both in and outside the country even during the World Cup period," the confederation said. Labor activists also will organize a rally Sunday in central Seoul.
The confederation wants a five-day, 40-hour workweek and a halt of plans to privatize the power industry.
The confederation also criticized the state-owned Korea Electric Power Corp. for firing 348 union leaders after they organized a strike in March to oppose a privatization plan. Strikes by public-utility workers are illegal.
Privatizing utilities and other inefficient state firms is one of President Kim Dae-jung's priorities as he tries to reform the economy following the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis. But labor groups fear privatization will result in mass layoffs.
Mr. Kim has repeatedly appealed to management and workers to prevent labor strife during the World Cup finals.
If they go ahead, the strikes would deal a blow to a country already tackling a growing outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease and a political scandal involving one of the president's sons.
"We want the government to implement a five-day workweek," said Yoon Young-mo, an official at the militant Korean Confederation of Trade Unions. The umbrella union group has a membership of 600,000 in a nation of 48 million people.
Current law requires a 44-hour workweek.
The government hopes to introduce a shorter workweek, one of Mr. Kim's campaign promises, from the second half of this year for large companies in return for workers accepting pay cuts and fewer holidays.
Just hours after the strike threat, Mr. Kim urged union members for their cooperation during the soccer finals.
"Tomorrow is [day 10] for the opening of the World Cup," presidential spokeswoman Park Son-sook said in her daily news briefing.
"This is the time to demonstrate the energy of the Korean people," she said. "We expect the participation of all Koreans."
Last week, the South Korean leader asked his prime minister to meet labor unions and opposition lawmakers to urge them to avoid industrial and political unrest during the soccer finals, which kick off in Seoul May 31.


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