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Friday, January 27, 2023

South Korea sees disruption decline as truckers’ strike spreads | business news

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Officials say South Korea’s economy is recovering from the initial shock of a nationwide strike by thousands of freight truckers, even as their strike reached its 14th day Wednesday amid out of a standoff with the government over freight rate issues. .

The conservative government of President Yoon Suk Yeol has taken aggressive steps to mitigate the impact of the strike, issuing controversial return-to-work orders to more than 2,000 cement truck drivers among broader groups of truckers taking part in the strike. Officials have also mobilized around 200 military vehicles, including container and fuel trucks, to ease delays in industrial shipments.

Yoon’s office warned of stronger measures, such as expanding so-called “start work” orders to broader groups of truckers, including those hauling fuel and steel, blaming the strikers for costing the economy more than $3.5 trillion won ($2.6 billion) at a time of global uncertainty.

So far, the impact of the strike has been limited mainly to domestic industries, such as construction, and there have been no immediate signs of significant disruption to major export businesses, such as semiconductors.

Container traffic at the country’s main ports returned to 99% of normal levels as of Tuesday afternoon, according to data from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport. Cement shipments were also at 88% of normal levels, easing disruption to construction sites.

The ministry said around 4,400 truckers actively participated in the strike on Tuesday, compared with 8,000 to 10,000 workers who participated during the first days of the strike, which began on November 24.

The strikers, represented by the Cargo Truckers Solidarity union, are demanding the government make permanent a system of minimum freight rates set to expire at the end of 2022, which they say is crucial for security and financial stability in the face of rising freight costs. gas. and interest rates.

While the minimum rates currently apply only to containers and cement, the strikers are also calling for the benefits to be extended to other cargo, including oil and chemical tankers, steel carriers, and package delivery cars and trucks.

The Yoon government had offered to expand the current scheme for another three years, but has so far rejected calls to expand the scope of the minimum tariffs. Truckers say the system is crucial for their finances and personal safety, as otherwise they would be forced to increase their deliveries and drive faster to make ends meet.

South Korean labor groups have asked the International Labor Organization to review whether the order forcing cement truckers to return to their jobs violates their basic rights to collective action. The order, which was issued last Tuesday, marked the first time a South Korean government had used its controversial powers under a revised 2004 law to force truckers back to work.

Failure to comply without “justifiable reason” is punishable by up to three years in jail or a maximum fine of 30 million won ($22,800), and critics say the law infringes constitutional rights because it clearly does not explain what would qualify. as acceptable conditions for a strike.

The Ministry of Employment and Labor has confirmed that the UN agency sent a letter on behalf of Corinne Vargha, its director of international labor standards, asking the South Korean government to clarify its position on the dispute.

At a regional ILO meeting in Singapore on Wednesday, South Korea’s Deputy Labor Minister Park Jong-Pil insisted that the return-to-work order was an “inevitable” step, considering its impact on the national economy. He criticized the workers for “holding the national economy and livelihoods hostage” and that the strike was hurting low-income people and small businesses the most.

Copyright 2022 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.

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