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Unionized truckers end strike on day 16

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Cargo trucks are seen at the Uiwang Inland Container Depot in Gyeonggi Province, Friday, after the Cargo Truckers Solidarity Union, under the wing of the labor umbrella of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), called off its nationwide strike on the 16th day. Yonhap
Cargo trucks are seen at the Uiwang Inland Container Depot in Gyeonggi Province, Friday, after the Cargo Truckers Solidarity Union, under the wing of the labor umbrella of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), called off its nationwide strike on the 16th day. Yonhap

Presidential office says weeks-long strike inflicted astronomical losses on economy

By Lee Hyo-jin

Unionized cargo truck drivers have voted to return to work, Friday, ending their 16-day-long strike, after their collective action was met with toughened measures by the government, which had been responding with unprecedented return-to-work orders.

The Cargo Truckers Solidarity Union, under the umbrella of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), said 61.84 percent of the union workers voted in favor of ending the strike in a vote conducted across its 16 branches nationwide. Only 3,574 of the total 26,144 union members participated in the vote.

The vote was held amid the weeks-long strike which had been starting to lose steam. About 3,300 truckers were participating in the walkout as of Thursday 5 p.m., a sharp drop from the 9,600 on the first day on Nov. 24, according to data from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport.

The union's branch in Busan decided unilaterally to withdraw from the collective action on Friday morning ahead of the vote, while truckers at Gwangyang Port in South Jeolla Province voluntarily returned to work on Tuesday.

The presidential office welcomed the vote results, noting that the weeks-long strike had inflicted an "astronomical amount of losses" on the economy. .

"The collective action by the unionized truckers has caused astronomical losses to our economy and the people's livelihoods. However, this should serve as momentum for all of us to seek improvement measures in the cargo industry," Kim Eun-hye, senior presidential secretary for public relations, told reporters later in the day.

She added that the government will abide by laws and principles regarding labor issues, while doing its best to create a fair and future-oriented labor-management environment.

The ruling People Power Party (PPP) lauded the government's consistent, stern response to the strike, which it viewed as being in line with the public's views on the issue, pressuring the workers to end the strike.

"This incident has proven that mob rule no longer works in Korea. It is obvious common sense that labor movements must be conducted within the legal boundaries, something that did not work in the previous government," PPP spokesperson Rep. Park Jeong-ha said in a written statement. "People who are tired of the union workers and the strikes sided with the government's response based on laws and principles."

Members of the Cargo Truckers Solidarity Union's Daejeon branch remove protest tents after the union decided to call off the strike earlier in the day. Yonhap
Members of the Cargo Truckers Solidarity Union's Daejeon branch remove protest tents after the union decided to call off the strike earlier in the day. Yonhap

Labeling the strike as an "illicit collective action," the government showed little sign of compromise and responded with unprecedented hardline tactics. It issued a return-to-work executive order to the 2,500 cement truck drivers on Nov. 29, the first such act since the Trucking Transport Business Act was enacted in 2004. It was then followed by another executive order forcing truckers in the steel and petrochemical sectors to return to their jobs too, which affected 6,000 and 4,500 workers in those industries, respectively.

Late last month, the unionized truckers launched an indefinite strike demanding the government make permanent the current minimum freight rate system ― which expires at the end of this year. The system guarantees minimum transport charges so as to prevent drivers from overworking, overloading their vehicles and speeding. The workers also called for the minimum pay system to be expanded to other truckers including those transporting oil and steel products.

The government, along with the PPP, had initially offered to extend the system for another three years in November, a proposal that did not satisfy the truckers.

The main opposition Democratic Party of Korea (DPK), which had been supporting the truckers' demands to make the minimum wage scheme permanent, abruptly changed its stance on Thursday and accepted the ruling party's proposal of extending the system.

However, it remains to be seen how the talks will develop between the truckers and the government, now that the latter seeks to begin discussions from square one, considering the financial losses caused by the prolonged strike.

"The government and the ruling party had proposed on Nov. 22 extending the system for another three years in order to prevent losses from the possible strike," the transport ministry said in a statement, Friday. "But as the union rejected the proposal and launched the strike on Nov. 24, resulting in damage to the nation, the measures should be put under review."

The latest strike by the truckers was the second of its kind in less than six months since President Yoon Suk-yeol took office in May. The 16-day strike caused massive supply disruptions across industries, which led to estimated losses of 3.5 trillion won in the steel, petrochemical and cement sectors.

Lee Hyo-jin lhj@koreatimes.co.kr


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