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Companies urge unionized truckers to end strike

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An out-of-gas sign is put up at a gas station in Seoul, Tuesday. Up to 80 percent of the cargo truckers who carry fuel provided by the top four local refiners ― SK Innovation, GS Caltex, S-Oil and Hyundai Oilbank ― are union members. The government said earlier that a prolonged strike will lead to a short-term fuel shortage at gas stations and overall price hikes. Yonhap
An out-of-gas sign is put up at a gas station in Seoul, Tuesday. Up to 80 percent of the cargo truckers who carry fuel provided by the top four local refiners ― SK Innovation, GS Caltex, S-Oil and Hyundai Oilbank ― are union members. The government said earlier that a prolonged strike will lead to a short-term fuel shortage at gas stations and overall price hikes. Yonhap

By Lee Kyung-min

Companies and business associations welcomed a presidential executive order, Tuesday, whereby 2,500 striking truckers in the cement industry could be criminally prosecuted.

They said the order is a much-needed move to rein in a group of hardline militant union members, long governed by only self-interests at the expense of hard-working non-union counterparts.

Company officials said the scope of the order should be expanded to include those disrupting the steel, automotive, refinery and petrochemical industries, in order to better uphold the governing principle of the rule of law across all industries.

Truckers, however, vowed to continue their all-out struggle, characterizing the order as "nothing short of martial law imposed by the oppressive administration."

President Yoon Suk-yeol issued the order at the Cabinet meeting early in the day. Striking truckers will have to resume work immediately, or face a suspension of their driver's licenses and a possible revocation thereafter. Continued failure to comply will result in a maximum prison term of up to three years or a fine of up to 30 million won ($22,300). The ongoing strike is causing economic losses of 300 billion won per day.

The stern and unprecedented measure seeks to put a stop to the collective action, already in its sixth day, organized by some 25,000 hardline unionized truckers under the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU). The hardliners account for less than 6 percent of the 440,000 truckers in the country. This is their second walkout since June, when the export-reliant economy suffered a 2 trillion won loss in economic activity.

The Korea Cement Association said that the industry's overall outbound shipment was limited to 22,000 tons, Monday, only 11 percent of the seasonal average in the September-December period, a peak for the construction industry.

The industry's combined losses from Nov. 24 to 28 amount to 64.2 billion won. Only about 56 percent of the 912 construction sites run by 20 local building developers are in operation.

The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport said the output by cement producers has been slashed by up to 95 percent compared to the seasonal average, Tuesday, with a complete shutdown looming at almost all construction sites.

"Korea may have to brace for a construction industry-triggered economic crisis, crippled by continued delays in construction and delay penalties thereafter, pushing up overall construction and financing costs," the ministry said in a statement.

A transport ministry official reads an executive order requiring striking truckers to return to work immediately at the Sejong Government Complex, Tuesday, hours after President Yoon Suk-yeol issued the order during a Cabinet meeting. Yonhap
A transport ministry official reads an executive order requiring striking truckers to return to work immediately at the Sejong Government Complex, Tuesday, hours after President Yoon Suk-yeol issued the order during a Cabinet meeting. Yonhap

Truckers criticized for greed

"They don't care about anything other than their self-interest," said an official of one of five local associations representing construction, cement and ready-mix concrete businesses.

The collective action shows no regard for non-union hard-working ordinary people whose day-to-day livelihoods are increasingly threatened, in his view.

"The striking truckers are demanding the government permanently guarantee a certain level of wages, a claim that is out of touch with reality for many whose lives are about whether they are able to land a day labor job at all."

Their first walkout in June led to a severe blow to construction and raw materials businesses, causing hundreds of billions of won in losses.

The economy is already reeling from years of economic scars brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, compounded further by fears of a recession in the year to come.

"Illegalities should never be tolerated, especially not during the time of this economic crisis. The executive order is a clear sign that collective greed will not be indulged. We appreciate it," the official said.

The Korea Enterprises Federation, a business group, said the scope of the order should be expanded to include key growth-driving manufacturing industries.

"The prolonged strike is weighing heavily on the economy, a reason why we are glad to see the swift government action. More strikers should be subject to the order so as to limit repercussions on the key exporters of the country," it said in a statement.

The Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) said the order was inevitable given the grave implications for the economy.

"Efforts to find a breakthrough in previous talks ended in failure, amplifying the economic losses and inconvenience to the public. Illegalities should be dealt with in the strongest possible way, in accordance with the rule of law. We hope reasonable steps be mapped out with full the engagement of stakeholders," a KCCI official said.

Lee Kyung-min lkm@koreatimes.co.kr


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