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Bishop climbs pylon to talk to strikers

Prelate calls for dialogue in long-running dispute with car maker

Bishop climbs pylon to talk to strikers
Bishop Matthias Ri Iong-hoon climbs up a pylon to speak to the two ex-workers

Bishop Matthias Ri Iong-hoon today visited two fired workers who have been staging a sit-in for the past 126 days on top of a power transmission tower near the Ssangyong motor plant in Pyeongtaek.

The bishop, who is president of the Korean Bishops’ Committee for Justice and Peace, urged the motor company and the local government to work urgently with the workers to resolve their long-running dispute.

The workers are demanding the reinstatement of all employees who were fired from the plant in 2009. 

Three workers initially climbed up the steel tower, which transmits 150,000 volts of electricity, but one came down on March 15 due to ill health.

“Their situation is not good.” said the bishop. “I mostly worry about their health as they have been up there for more than three months. If the dialogue starts, the two workers promised to come down. The Church will help it as far as possible.”

Bishop Ri, whose Suwon diocese includes the plant, added: “The workers, their family members and co-workers altogether are in despair. So far, 24 are dead after the Ssangyong labor conflict, and there should be no more deaths. Society should interfere to solve the situation."

Beset by financial difficulties, the company shed 2,645 jobs in 2009 following a 77-day worker occupation of the plant that ended in a police raid. The suicides of at least 23 workers or family members since then have caused an outcry in South Korea.

The company recently reinstated 455 workers who had been placed on unpaid leave. Some 150 workers who were fired after the dispute were not included in the reinstatement.

“I really appreciate Bishop Ri visiting us,” said Kim Jeong-woo, president of the Ssangyong trade union. “He seemed very unhappy with the scene.

“I hope no more deaths will occur. If there is one more, all of us will despair,” he added.  

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