WIDESPREAD industrial action halted services on Korean National Railroad at the end of June as employees staged protests against plans to privatise all or part of the 3125 km network. Back in January the South Korean government had softened its line on privatisation, saying that it would opt for a public corporation. This time it decided to get tough.
After issuing an ultimatum to 7700 staff demanding that they end their protest and return to work, things rapidly deteriorated. In one incident around 5400 riot police stormed a university building in the centre of Seoul where 1500 railway workers were staging a sit-in; many were arrested.
After four days of disruption, the unions voted to go back to work. Faced with an unexpectedly determined government, they had lost the battle - parliament had voted on June 30 to approve legislation paving the way for privatisation. Among changes that will follow is the establishment of the Korea Railway Construction Authority, which will build and maintain both the conventional network and high speed lines (p506).