Workers at Korea Electric Power’s (Kepco’s) nuclear division have suspended indefinitely a vote on whether to strike over the government’s privatisation plans.

About 5600 Kepco workers from non-nuclear plants have been on strike since 25 February to protest against plans to sell off the fossil-fuelled thermal plants. Under the plans, the government will keep nuclear and hydro power plants under state control, but will begin to sell the five fossil-fuelled power generating affiliates this year.

About three fifths of the country’s electricity comes from fossil plants, and nearly all the remainder is from nuclear. Hydro is a marginal source.

Union head Kim Byung-ki said: “We suspended the voting because we couldn’t proceed with it due to strong interference by the company.” Union officials accused Kepco of sending workers on business trips and visiting every office to persuade workers not to vote.

Soon after the announcement of the suspension of the vote, South Korean president Kim Dae-jung said in a cabinet meeting that deregulation was non-negotiable because it had already been approved by parliament in 2000. He added that the government would uphold free market principles as well as labour laws banning public sector walkouts.