Asia-Pacific

South Korea woman spends 200th day in crane-top protest

Vessel crane at the Busan shipyards of HHIC, where Kim Jin-suk has been holding a sit-in demonstration since 6 Jan 2011, in Busan, south-east of Seoul
Image caption Kim Jin-suk has made this 35m-high crane her home for 200 days

A South Korean woman is spending her 200th day living at the top of a crane in protest against lay-offs at a major shipping company.

Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction announced last year it was cutting 400 jobs from its shipyard in the southern city of Busan.

This prompted local trade union member Kim Jin-suk to begin her protest.

She chose a crane where another trade unionist committed suicide several years ago during a separate labour row.

Thirty-five metres (115ft) above a windy shipyard, with a bucket for a toilet, the middle-aged Ms Kim is staging a lonely protest against one of South Korea's most renowned companies.

"I came up here in the winter, it's summer now and very hot," she said, speaking on a solar-powered mobile phone.

"I'm living in a metal cage and because it's so hot, it's like a sauna. There's no electricity, it's a very confined space, I can't read books, and I can't wash.

"But I'm here on behalf of the workers who are being laid off."

Last month, leaders of the local metal-workers union reached an agreement with the company to end the strike in return for more compensation for those laid-off, and no legal action.

More than half the affected workers agreed, but over 100 are continuing the protest, saying they want jobs, not compensation.

Image caption Ms Kim says the crane has become a sauna in the summer

Ms Kim says she will not come down until the workers are reinstated.

"It's very unfair: just after announcing the mass lay-offs, the company awarded huge allocations of stock dividends and wage increases for senior management.

"But if that can be rectified, and the lay-offs withdrawn, I can come down any time.

"The hardest thing for me is the fear of not knowing how the authorities might try to come in and break up my protest; not knowing how long it will take for this to end.

"I think that kind of psychological issue is the most difficult," she said.

South Korea has a history of long labour disputes, and the police have been criticised in the past for their heavy handling of them.

This year, strikes at Hyundai and Standard Chartered have caused widespread disruption.

But few have got as much attention as Kim Jin-suk.

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