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Korean workers postpone strike, citing ferry disaster

SEOUL — Citing last week’s ferry disaster, the union representing thousands of South Koreans who work for the U.S. military will delay a possible strike though it says most of its members support a walkout.

“Because of the ferry incident, the whole country is in sadness right now,” a spokesman for the USFK Korean Employees Union said. Hundreds of the ferry’s approximately 475 passengers, many of them high school students, remain missing five days after it sank off the peninsula’s southwestern tip.

Union officials have threatened to strike over complaints ranging from shortened work hours to frozen wages. They previously said they might time the strike to coincide with President Barack Obama’s visit to Seoul, scheduled for Friday and Saturday.

On Monday afternoon, a union official said that while votes were still being tallied, members voted overwhelmingly in favor of a strike.

Asked about the possible strike, U.S. Forces Korea said in a statement issued Monday: “We are aware of the discussions and statements of the Korean Employees Union. We are in routine and regular consultation with them.”

The announcement of the delayed strike follows USFK’s decision on April 9 to give all South Korean workers a 1.7 percent raise, effective the beginning of May. USFK’s statement on Monday said that is the maximum amount allowed by law.

A spokesman for the union, which represents about 9,500 workers, said the union wants at least 1.96 percent, retroactive to Jan. 1, with the expectation that additional negotiations would be conducted this summer.

USFK last month took steps to avert a mass furlough of its South Korean employees due to a shortfall in funding from Seoul. The South Korean government normally pays the bulk of their salaries but had not done so since a defense cost-sharing agreement between the two nations expired at the end of 2013.

Had USFK not decided last month to provide full funding for their salaries, the Korean employees could have been furloughed beginning April 1. The National Assembly approved another defense cost-sharing agreement last week.

rowland.ashley@stripes.com

chang.yookyong@stripes.com

 

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