06/10/2022, 17.10
SOUTH KOREA
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Truck drivers on strike, plants blockaded in South Korea

by Guido Alberto Casanova

The protest over skyrocketing fuel prices could cripple the country's economy. The government has lowered the threshold for fuel subsidies but the union also wants minimum transportation fees to be extended. President Yoon has tried to stay above the fray so far but warns that any illegal action will be prosecuted.

 

Seoul (AsiaNews) – On midnight Tuesday, the Cargo Truckers Solidarity (CTS) union, an affiliate of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), walked out for what is expected to be a long strike in order to pressure the government to accept its demands.

Although not unexpected, the CTS’s decision has created havoc across the country in what is the first major labour action since President Yoon Suk-yeol’s conservative administration came to power.

The CTS had threatened to walk out last month to bring attention to the increase in diesel prices. “Cargo truckers are facing a crisis, having to pay fuel costs that account for 30-50% of total transportation fees,” it said.

Following the outbreak of war in Ukraine, the price of diesel fuel rose to more than 2,000 won (US$ 1.56) a litre. The government responded by lowering the threshold price for subsidies to 1,750 won per litre, thus increasing support for truckers, but the price of diesel is still well above the 1,364 won in January.

The first warning came last week when 130 truckers tried to occupy a plant in Incheon owned by well-known liquor maker Hitejinro.

Truck owners working for Suyang Logistics, a freight consignment company owned by Hitejinro, demanded an increase in transport fees. Shortly after, CTS called for a general strike urging its members not to make deliveries.

The union's demands revolve specifically around the extension of a government programme, launched in 2020 and set to end this December, which guarantees a minimum fee for road transport.

The union wants the programme’s coverage to be extended to other truckers not hitherto included.

The strike that began on Tuesday has caused problems for a number of companies.

POSCO's Pohang steel mill had to delay shipping 20,000 tonnes of products out of a daily volume of 49,000. Hyundai has had problems with supplies of parts for its automotive production. Deliveries of soju (a popular Korean alcoholic beverage) and cement have also been affected.

As it enters its fourth day, the strike is starting to bite even large South Korean companies, such as Samsung and LG, which rely on trucking to move finished household appliances.

South Korean authorities claim that only 8,000 truck drivers are involved in the strike, while CTS said that most of its 25,000 members and many non-members are refusing to transport goods.

The CTS and the government are not at odds only over numbers.

While the Transport Ministry claimed that the strike’s logistical impact was minimal, some sources told Reuters that the country’s ports in particular are having trouble with handling goods. Indeed, the government has had to resort to an emergency transport measure.

Violence has also flared up. Police arrested some 15 unionised truckers for allegedly interfering with other truckers making deliveries to the Hitejinro plant in Incheon.

Until now President Yoon has tried to appear neutral, limiting himself to saying that any illegal action will be handled according to the law, but after four days, the situation may soon require more direct intervention by the new head of state.

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