(LEAD) Korean Air cancels over 130 flights due to pilot walkout

More than 130 scheduled flights with South Korea's largest flag carrier Korean Air Lines Co. will be cancelled due to a walkout by unionized pilots, the transportation ministry said Wednesday.

Unionized workers of Korean Air earlier said they will stage a 10-day walkout from Thursday. The scheduled strike follows failed wage negotiations.

According to a report submitted by the airline, the carrier will be forced to call off 24 international flights and some 112 domestic flights between the Dec. 22-31 period, according to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport.

The numbers represent 2 percent and 15 percent, respectively, of all previously scheduled international and domestic flights. The international flights to be cancelled include flights to and from Japan's Narita and Osaka airports, along with flights to Hong Kong and Dubai.

Those who have already paid for their flights in advance will be allowed to change their flight schedule or get a full refund without any charge, the ministry said.

"The number of flights to be reduced will shrink toward the end of the strike, so we believe there will not be a major transportation havoc as most international passengers and cargo can be carried by replacing flights or those of other airlines," it said in a press release.

The ministry has been running an emergency task force since the start of this week in preparation of the scheduled strike by Korean Air pilots.

"The government will maintain a close watch on the airline to make sure no irregularities or abnormal, unsafe operation of flights will take place," it said.

Union leaders at Korean Air insisted the scheduled strike as well as their demand for a pay raise were an attempt to ensure airline safety, noting a large number of Korean Air pilots have been and continue to be replaced by inexperienced, short-term pilots due to a large gap between their wages and those of other airlines, undermining the company's overall flight safety.

"We plan to stage a strike for the first time in 11 years to fix Korean Air, which only cares about the interests of company owners and its top executives while ignoring its social responsibilities," they said in a press conference held in Seoul.

The pilot union had initially demanded a 37 percent pay raise, but later revised it down to 27 percent.

The company, on the other hand, has steadily insisted on a 1.9 percent increase, citing its earlier wage deal with a separate labor union representing non-pilot workers.

"The requested increase rate is a rather symbolic figure that represents our demand to bring the working conditions of Korean Air pilots to those of international standards, and such high pay raises enjoyed only by ranking executives of the company," the union leaders said.

"We have repeatedly expressed our intention to call off the strike should the management offer even a 1,000 won (US$0.84) more than their initial offer, but our request has ultimately been rejected," they added.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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