South Korean truckers end strike against minimum wage program

SEOUL—South Korean truckers, under government pressure to return to work, ended a week-long strike over wage demands that had disrupted economic activity and supply chains in one of the main centers export from Asia.

The truckers’ union voted to end the strike on Friday, a day after the South Korean government widened the scope of a back-to-work order to include the steel and petrochemical industries, in addition of the cement sector.

The decision to call off the strike was backed by about 62% of members who participated in the vote, according to the truckers’ union.

Thousands of unionized truck drivers in South Korea had been on strike for more than two weeks. The union had sought to extend and sustain a policy guaranteeing minimum freight rates for container truck drivers and cement workers. The policy, which is due to expire at the end of the year, includes provisions for determining compensation that takes into account fluctuating costs such as fuel prices. Critics of the policy have argued that the measures place an unfair financial burden on logistics companies that employ truck drivers.

A union rally in Seoul on Wednesday.


Photo:

Chris Jung/Zuma Press

The South Korean government had offered to continue the policy for three years to prevent the start of a national truckers’ strike last month. The union rejected the offer, demanding that the policy become permanent and be expanded to cover truckers transporting other types of goods such as steel, hazardous substances and automobiles. They began a walkout on November 24.

The Truckers’ Union said on Friday it would continue to fight for its causes, criticizing the government’s response to the strike as violent and repressive. The union said the government should keep its promise to extend the current minimum freight rate system for three years.

The government did not commit to this and suggested that the negotiations had to start from scratch. The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport said on Friday that the proposal should be reconsidered and that the union should take responsibility for the damage it caused to the national economy. He reiterated that he would not consider extending the policy’s cover to other types of goods.

The government’s back-to-work orders are the first to be issued to striking truckers since related transport laws were amended to allow such a measure in 2004. Those who refuse to return to work without good reason could see their trucking license revoked and face up to three years in prison or fines of up to 30 million won, the equivalent of about $22,800.

Shipping delays in the first 12 days of the strike led to losses of about 3.5 trillion won, or about $2.7 billion, in steel, petrochemicals, refining petroleum, cement and automotive, according to the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy. said Tuesday.

The level of steel and petrochemical shipments had already started to recover on Thursday when the latest back-to-work order took effect, the Department of Transportation said.

Discussions on the minimum freight rate system are expected to continue in the National Assembly this month. The so-called security rate system is due to end on December 31.

Write to Jiyoung Sohn at [email protected]

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