12/06/2022, 17.57
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Lorry drivers go on strike, block Seoul, demand a minimum wage and better working conditions

Without supplies, more than half of Seoul’s petrol stations are dry today. South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol recently issued a back-to-order for drivers in the cement sector, without success. Meanwhile, the government’s approval rate is up.

Seoul (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A nationwide strike by more than 25,000 lorry drivers has caused fuel shortages at about a hundred gas stations across South Korea.

On strike since 24 November, lorry drivers are demanding the government continue to guarantee minimum transport rates in the face of rising fuel prices, making permanent a measure that was introduced in 2020 by the previous liberal administration of President Moon Jae-in. The measure is set to expire at the end of the year.

Striking lorry drives also want a minimum wage and safer working conditions.

So far, the union and the government led by conservative President Yoon Suk-yeol have met only twice without results.

On Sunday, the president issued an order, the first in the country's history, forcing some 2,500 lorry drivers in the cement industry to return to work after more than 500 construction sites across the country shut down over a lack of cement.

Reacting to the presidential decree, drivers took to the streets again and shaved their heads in protest and show of their determination.

The back-to-work order, which includes fines of up US$ 23,000 and to three years in prison, is based on a law passed in 2004 that allows the government to force drivers to return to work if the national economy is at risk or in the event of an "emergency."

President Yoon says he wants to limit the economic damage caused by the disruption of supply chains, which the Minister of Industry two days ago estimated to be at least US$ 2.46 billion.

Overall, the strike has cost the South Korean economy about US5 million per day.

Since yesterday afternoon, almost 100 petrol stations, more than half of them in the capital Seoul, have run out of fuel.

The government, after simply extending existing transport tariffs by three years and appointing a negotiator known to be an intransigent politician opposed to the demands of the unions, announced that it had also prepared back-to-work orders for lorry drivers in other key sectors.

According to some observers, after the Halloween tragedy in Itaewon, which is still an open wound for many South Koreans, the government’s iron fist against the strikers could be an attempt to muster support among the administration’s hard core of voters.

In fact, the president’s approval rate rose from 35 per cent to almost 39 per cent yesterday.

The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), which today held a nationwide strike in 25 different locations in support of drivers, compared the back-to-work order to martial law and President Yoon to former South Korean dictators.

Some 3,500 members affiliated with KTCU and other unions demonstrated in Uiwang, a major logistics hub 25 kilometres south of Seoul, holding up signs against " Yoon Suk-yeol government's labour oppression”.

"We will fight the government's oppressive response to the strike with even stronger solidarity and continue to fight on sternly," said KCTU chief Yang Kyung-soo at a rally in Uiwang.

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