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Korean Power Strike: Halt Arrests And Restart Talks

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11 August, 2005ICEM News release No. 13/2002

Warrants for the arrest of South Korean power workers' leaders should be withdrawn immediately, the 20-million-strong International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions (ICEM) urged today.

"The unionised workers at power plant subsidiaries of the Korea Electric Power Corp. (KEPCO) are engaged in peaceful industrial action," wrote ICEM General Secretary Fred Higgs in a protest message to South Korea's President Kim Dae-jung. "The State's response has been to issue warrants for the arrest of 24 union leaders. We also understand that state-owned KEPCO has decided to dismiss more than 5,000 workers, to bring in replacement workers and to sue more than 200 trade union officers.

"All of this is wholly unacceptable in a democratic society," Higgs told President Kim. "It constitutes a breach of the internationally recognised right to strike. We urge you to do your utmost to ensure that the arrest warrants are withdrawn immediately and that KEPCO rescinds all threats of dismissal and legal action. Your government should also negotiate sympathetically with the striking workers' union and should press KEPCO to do likewise."

Over 5,000 power workers grouped within the Korean Power Plant Industrial Union have been on strike for the past nine days - mainly over plans to privatise South Korea's electricity industry.

Unions were never consulted about the privatisation scheme. The decision was unilaterally imposed by the government in December 2000.

South Korea's electric power unions are prepared to continue a dialogue aimed at finding solutions, but the government withdrew from the negotiating table and backed the unions into a corner by replacing strikers with retired workers. The unions' demand is for a full debate on privatisation, with the involvement of relevant civil society organisations and of the consumers.