Labor union opposes resumption of late-night subway operations

Unionized workers stage a rally in front of Seoul Metropolitan Government office, Tuesday, in protest of the local government's plan to resume late-night subway operations. Yonhap

Seoul plans to extend subway operations amid taxi shortage

By Lee Hyo-jin

Unionized workers of Seoul Metro are strongly protesting against the city government's plan to resume late-night subway operations, a measure proposed to tackle the worsening nighttime taxi shortage in the capital.

The union that represents workers of a part of Seoul's subway system which runs lines 1 to 8, held a rally in front of the Seoul Metropolitan Government office, Tuesday, demanding the local government withdraw its plan to extend operating hours.

"Late-night operations were suspended not only because of the coronavirus pandemic but also due to worsening operating losses, which nearly pushed the operator into bankruptcy. It is difficult to understand why the government has abruptly announced resumption of late-night operations, without any measures to resolve these issues," the union said in a statement.

Earlier this month, the metropolitan government said it will extend subway operating hours on weekdays until 1 a.m., thereby increasing operations by one hour from the current midnight closing time, starting at some point in June.

The plan was included in a set of measures to resolve a taxi shortage at nighttime in Seoul, which has been exacerbated after the government lifted almost all COVID-19 social distancing measures in April.

The planned resumption of the late-night operation of the subway comes two years after the local authorities temporarily suspended its late night operations in April 2020, in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

However, the Seoul Metro workers' union is strongly opposing the city government's "abrupt announcement of its unilateral decision," which it argues would only worsen the subway operator's continued losses.

Seoul Metro, which was created after two city government-affiliated corporations, one running lines 1 to 4 and the other operating lines 5 to 8, merged in May 2017, has posted yearly deficits of around 500 billion won ($435 million) for three consecutive years.

In 2020, it recorded a net loss of 1.11 trillion won as the passenger numbers plummeted amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The union also insisted that the management has broken its promise to completely suspend late-night operations.

In September of last year, a proposed restructuring plan of the subway's operator, which included employee layoffs and a wage freeze triggered a fierce backlash from the unionized workers, who threatened to stage a walkout, demanding the company come up with feasible measures to tackle the financial problems instead of firing employees.

The planned walkout was averted after the two sides reached a last minute agreement, which included a withdrawal of the restructuring plan and a complete suspension of late-night operations.

At Tuesday's rally, the union expressed fury over the city government overturning its decision and turning a blind eye to potential safety issues, which may arise due to the resumption of late-night operations without a thorough review.

Lee Hyo-jin

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