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Tens of thousands join May Day rally in South Korea


A girl shouts slogans as she joins a May Day rally in downtown Seoul, South Korea, Sunday, PHOTO: AFP

A girl shouts slogans as she joins a May Day rally in downtown Seoul, South Korea, Sunday, PHOTO: AFP

Tens of thousands of South Koreans on Sunday joined May Day protests against labour reforms pushed by the government and called for a higher minimum wage.

Labour activists say a bill being pushed by President Park Geun-Hye and her conservative Saenuri Party will make it easier for companies to sack workers.

“Let’s fight together against the evil bill!” activists and unionised workers chanted in unison during a protest in Seoul Plaza in front of City Hall.

About 30,000 unionised workers took part, according to the Federation of Korean Trade Unions.

Elections last month saw Park’s party lose its parliamentary majority for the first time in 16 years, as voters registered their dissatisfaction with the president’s economic record and soaring youth unemployment.

The crushing defeat means Park, who has less than two years left of her single five-year term, will increasingly struggle to push through her conservative economic agenda including labour reforms.

Messages on banners waved at Sunday’s rally included “Down with easy layoff!” and “Protect our rights to work!”.

Protesters chanted: “Fight against Park’s administration that suppresses labour rights!”

Many also waved giant flags reading “Minimum wage of 10,000 won($8.73)!” South Korea’s current minimum wage is 6,030 won per hour.

Another protest involving thousands of workers was held elsewhere in central Seoul, demanding the scrapping of the labour reform bill and shorter working hours.

South Korea has some of the world’s longest working hours at 2,124 a year, far higher than the OECD average of 1,770 hours.

Police said more than 10,000 officers were deployed for the protests but no clashes were reported.

Last year’s May Day rallies ended with violent clashes between protesters and police, who used water cannon and pepper spray on the crowd. Dozens of people were injured.

Park’s administration argues the reform plan would introduce flexibility to a rigid labour market, by making it easier for businesses to hire as well as to fire.

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