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South Korean workers in nationwide strike over labour policies

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Members of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions attend a rally calling for pro-labour reform near the National Assembly in Seoul on November 21, 2018. – Tens of thousand workers launched a half-day strike across South Korea on November 21, accusing the government of rolling back pro-labour policies in the face of deepening economic woes. (Photo by Jung Yeon-je / AFP)

Tens of thousands of workers launched a half-day strike across South Korea Wednesday, accusing the government of rolling back pro-labour policies in the face of deepening economic woes.

Some 40,000 of those who put down tools — including some in the auto industry — rallied in Seoul and 13 other cities, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), a major labour umbrella group, said.

An AFP journalist in the capital said a crowd of around 10,000 workers gathered outside the country’s parliament wearing red headbands, chanting slogans and waving banners, as hundreds of riot police took positions nearby.

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The KCTU estimated 160,000 affiliated workers would join the walkout nationwide.

A government move to introduce greater flexibility to the country’s maximum 52-hour work week — to adjust to fluctuations in demand — has particularly angered workers.

They are also calling for liberal president Moon Jae-in’s government to deliver on election promises to raise the minimum wage from 7,530 won (US$6.66) to 10,000 won (US$8.85) by 2020.

Earlier this month, Moon sacked his top two economic officials, as the world’s 11th-largest economy struggles with slowing growth, rising unemployment and persistent income gaps.

These difficulties have hit the president’s approval ratings, now at 52 percent — a drop of 13 percentage points over five weeks, according to Gallup Korea.


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