- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 23, 2002

SEOUL (AP) Thousands of South Korean metal, chemical and other industry workers went on strike yesterday to demand wage increases and better working conditions.
The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, the nation's second-largest labor group, which called the walkout, said 30,000 workers were on strike. The Labor Ministry said 15,000 workers walked out.
The strike came nine days ahead of the opening of the World Cup soccer tournament, which South Korea will co-host with Japan starting May 31. Concerned about its international image, the South Korean government has warned of stern measures against those organizing illegal strikes in advance of the May 31-June 30 series.
"There are no reports of illegal or violent demonstrations yet, but if there is any such case, we will deal with it in a firm matter," said Lee Kyong-goo, a Labor Ministry official.
The confederation said 23,000 hospital workers and 10,000 taxi drivers will join the strike this week.
"We want to end our struggle and enjoy the World Cup, too. But if the government keeps suppressing us, we have no choice but to continue our struggle into the World Cup," said Sohn Nak-koo, a confederation spokesman.
The group's demands include the release of 38 workers who were jailed for organizing illegal strikes, and the re-employment of 348 state power workers who were fired for leading a monthlong strike that ended in early April.
Some 5,000 workers at state-owned Korea Electric Power Corp. struck in March to oppose a privatization plan, which they feared would lead to mass layoffs. Strikes by public utility workers are illegal.
Hoping to avoid labor unrest during the World Cup, the government has been urging management and unions to suspend wage and other labor negotiations during the tournament.
The government also banned all protest rallies near World Cup stadiums and hotels accommodating soccer players, said Chung Hee-chan, a Home Ministry official.
As co-hosts, South Korea and Japan will split the 64 matches of the tournament.


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