SOUTH KOREA NEWS
Taxi Drivers Stage Nationwide Strike
On December 20, an estimated 250,000 taxi drivers staged a nationwide day-long strike, calling for a ban on Kakao’s ridesharing service. Around half the nation’s drivers rallied in front of the National Assembly in Seoul. Taxi drivers are concerned that the private service threatens their already precarious livelihoods.
Irregular Workers Rally
Thousands of irregular workers and their supporters rallied near Gwanghwamun Square in Seoul on December 23. They urged an end to the unsettled financial circumstances and dangerous working conditions that the nation’s 6.6 million irregular workers face. Less than two weeks beforehand, 24-year-old temporary employee Kim Yong-gyun was killed when he was crushed by a steel conveyor belt at Taen Thermal Power Plant. Demonstrators tied black ribbons along their path that read, “I, too, am Kim Yong-gyun.”
To win bids, subcontractors tend to cut safety-related costs, and the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions reports that irregular workers were the victims of 97 percent of the industrial accidents that occurred in the five major power plant companies between 2012 and 2016.
Groundbreaking Ceremony Held for Inter-Korean Railway
South and North Korea held a groundbreaking ceremony on December 26 at Panmun Station, near Kaesong, establishing a rail connection with Seoul. The ceremony signified the start of a broader inter-Korean project to reconnect and modernize rail and road links between the two nations.
Given UN sanctions and the amount of preparatory work that is necessary, South Korean Transport Minister Kim Hyun-mee cautioned, “It’s unlikely construction will start in the next few years.” North Korean Vice Railway Minister Kim Yun-hyok struck a more optimistic note, though. “Whether to make an achievement in the North-South railway and road project depends on our people’s determination and willingness. Our people’s burning hope for reunification cannot be realized ever as long as we mind how others think and hesitate.”
Kim Jong-un Expresses Intent to Visit South Korea
In a letter sent to South Korean President Moon Jae-in, North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un stated his regret in not having visited South Korea so far and expressed his wish to do so in 2019. The letter indicated his desire to meet with Moon more often to work on peace, prosperity, and resolution of denuclearization issues.
South Korean Military Plans to Reduce Tensions on the Korean Peninsula
South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense presented its plans to President Moon Jae-in for improving relations with North Korea in 2019. The ministry intends to work with the north on the removal of all remaining guard posts in the demilitarized zone, and turn the area into a “peace zone in a genuine sense” by eliminating all hostile acts between the two sides.
The plan also calls for the establishment of an inter-Korean military committee to coordinate work relating to the September military agreement, which would include transforming disputed waters around the Northern Limit Line into a maritime peace zone.
The South Korean military is also aiming to reach an agreement with the U.S. to transfer wartime control of its forces from the U.S.
Groundwater Near U.S. Yongsan Garrison Contaminated with Carcinogens
Measurements at 44 percent of the 62 wells located near Yongsan Garrison showed that levels of benzene, a class one carcinogen, exceeded safety levels to an alarming degree. In the highest reading, the level was 1,170 times the standard. The city government has been cleaning up the U.S. military’s pollution outside the garrison since 2001, but will not be able to attack the source of the contamination until the U.S. military fully vacates the site. The earliest date at which the last U.S. personnel will depart is next July. The U.S. steadfastly maintains that it bears no responsibility to pay any portion of the cost to remove its pollution.
Forced Labor Victims File Class Action Suit
On December 20, the Association for the Pacific War Victims filed a class action in a local court, seeking financial compensation from the South Korean government for being forced to labor under Imperial Japanese rule. Under terms of a 1965 agreement, Japan paid $300 million to the Republic of Korea. According to the association, only a few victims received payment under that treaty. A statement by the plaintiffs declared, “The money used by the Korean government should now be returned to individual victims.”
In addition to the lawsuit, forced labor victims and their families have launched legal actions against about 70 Japanese companies.
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