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EDITIONS
Thursday, 23 May, 2002, 10:07 GMT 11:07 UK
Strikes spread in South Korea
Taxi Drivers rally
Taxi drivers are set to join the strikes
Workers in South Korea have held a second day of strikes despite government warnings of a stern reaction if they disrupt the World Cup.

Hospital staff have joined walkouts for higher pay and shorter working hours, which began with stoppages in the metal and chemical industries on Wednesday.

The militant Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) has refused to rule out action during the football tournament which South Korea and Japan are co-hosting from 31 May.

Korea's President Kim Dae-Jung has called on the strikers to return to work, at least until the World Cup is over, for the sake of South Korea's international reputation.

Concessions

A last minute deal agreed by the country's main financial institutions meant bank staff mostly stayed at their desks on Wednesday.

The banks have accepted demands to cut the working week to five days from 1 July.

But about 12,000 taxi drivers are set to stop work on Friday.

Estimates of the numbers on strike varied widely.

Union organisers claimed about 40,000 workers took part on Thursday, while the Labour Ministry put the figure closer to 20,000.

More deals on the way?

"I'm glad to hear that the financial sector union and management have resolved the issues through dialogue and cancelled the strike plan in this important time ahead of the World Cup games," said President Kim.

There were rumours that other employers had also reached local agreements.

"Some hospital leaders dropped the strike plan overnight because they have reached agreements on wages and other demands," union official Kim Soong-joo told the Reuters news agency.

"Some metal workers also stopped as management accepted demands," he added.

Tough action

On Tuesday, the prime minister's office warned that "the government will deal sternly with illegal strikes and collective actions which could undermine the country's image during the World Cup".

South Korea's 10 World Cup stadiums and the players' hotels will be cordoned off.

And anti-terrorist security forces are expected to be positioned in the roof of stadiums, ready to abseil onto trouble makers.

Unions said strike action could spread to involve up to 70,000 workers including hospital staff, metal and chemical workers and taxi drivers.

Officials have accused the unions of taking advantage of the football event to press their case.

They have said they will examine union calls for a shorter working week and improved working conditions positively - but that any other demands will only be discussed after the football finals.

A union federation has accused the government of cracking down on union activities.

See also:

22 May 02 | Business
02 Apr 02 | Business
25 Mar 02 | Business
21 Mar 02 | Business
26 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
08 Mar 02 | Country profiles
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