(3rd LD) Unionized bus drivers in Seoul end general strike after reaching wage deal

Unionized bus drivers in Seoul returned to work Thursday, hours after they went on the first general strike in 12 years to demand a wage hike, causing major delays for commuters during the morning rush hour. The Seoul Bus Labor Union reached a deal on a 4.48 percent wage hike plus 650,000 won (US$482.2) in holiday bonuses with their employers under the mediation of the Seoul city government, city officials said, about 11 hours after the general strike was launched. Bus drivers immediately returned to work, fully normalizing bus services in the capital ahead of the evening rush hour. The union, which has about 18,000 members at 65 companies, had gone on the strike, affecting 7,210 intracity buses, representing 97.6 percent of the capital's bus services, after its last-minute wage negotiations conducted from Wednesday until early Thursday morning had failed to strike a deal over the union's demand for a 12.7 percent increase in hourly wages. The general strike, the first since 2012, caused massive passenger inconveniences in the morning rush hour, delaying travel time for commuters and leaving uninformed passengers taken aback. The city government had increased subway operations for the morning and evening rush hours to minimize passenger inconveniences and extended the subway operating hours from 1 a.m. to 2 a.m. The city's 25 district governments had provided emergency free shuttle services to move passengers speedily to subway stations. The bus union had demanded a 12.7 percent hike in hourly wages, citing the outflow of its workforce to nearby regions, but the employers' side dismissed it as "excessive," particularly in consideration of the inflation rate of the past five years. At the peak of the morning rush hour at 8 a.m., a usually bustling bus station near Nakseongdae Station in southern Seoul remained deserted, with the multiple bus routes passing through the station suspended. An 18-year-old passenger, surnamed Choi, said he departed from home 15 minutes earlier than usual to walk to his school d ue to the strike. "The rainy weather makes it even more uncomfortable," he said. Platforms at Wangsimni Station, a major transfer point where three subway lines intersect, were unusually crowded with commuters during the morning rush hour. "I was surprised to see there wasn't even a small space to lay my feet," said a 66-year-old commuter, surnamed Lee, after boarding a subway train at Cheongnyangni Station in eastern Seoul. "I heard people pushing and being pushed by each other and shouting," he said. The strike also caught uninformed commuters off guard and many urgently went to find alternative transportation after hearing about the collective action. Source: Yonhap News Agency