Janitors on strike at 3 universities

About 860 janitors and cleaners at Korea, Yonsei and Ewha Womans universities began a strike at 6 a.m. yesterday after they failed to reach an agreement with the schools over raising their pay Monday.

The workers, all of whom are temporary workers hired by out-sourced companies, have demanded 5,180 won ($4.63) per hour since October 2010, whereas the universities have offered 4,320 won, which is the minimum wage in Korea.

According to the liberal labor union Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, which all the striking workers belong to, they asked for arbitration from the National Labor Relations Commission, a state-run arbitration organization, on Feb. 21.

On Feb. 24-26, the union said, 86.5 percent of the workers voted in favor of a strike if the commission failed to mediate the dispute by Monday.

Both sides met at the negotiating table until midnight on Monday, but they failed to come to an agreement at the meeting.

“The universities have the key to solving this problem,” said Ryu Nam-mi, a union official. “The fastest way to make progress in talks is for the universities to take responsibility for managing their workers and take proper steps for this.”

But officials of the universities said it wasn’t their duty to raise the wages of the workers.

“A university is not a private company that can afford to raise the wages of workers infinitely,” an official of Korea University said. “We, the universities, also suffer from lots of problems for our new semester. We don’t have any idea how to have additional workers to replace those on strike, but we could possibly have our officials do the cleaning jobs if need be.”


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