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S. Korean construction workers rally over wages

Seoul, June 28, 2012 (AFP) - Thousands of South Korean construction workers rallied Thursday demanding payment of overdue wages and better protection for workers, a day after launching a national strike.

Police said the rally outside Seoul city hall drew about 9,000 protesters.

The 30,000-member construction workers' union launched an indefinite walkout on Wednesday, mainly in protest at mounting overdue wages estimated at 166 billion won ($143.8 million).

"We've been working like slaves for more than 10 hours a day, but our rights have not been protected," a union leader told the crowd Thursday.

Workers wearing red headbands shouted slogans such as "No overdue wages!" and "Protect our basic labour rights!"

They accused the government of poorly managing state projects, including President Lee Myung-Bak's massive project to dredge, dam and beautify South Korea's four major rivers.

The union says overdue wages from various state projects accounted for 70 percent of all payments in arrears last year.

It also wants occupational health and safety insurance coverage for all construction workers, citing 577 deaths on construction sites last year.

Many construction workers are hired temporarily by subcontractors to big firms, with no full insurance coverage or severance payments, the union said.

Unionised truck drivers began a separate strike Monday, demanding a 30 percent increase in haulage fees and lower taxes on fuel.

The transport ministry has reported no serious disruption of cargo at ports and terminals because the strike was poorly supported. It has increased cargo train services and mobilised about 200 military drivers.


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