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Bus union strike threatens major public transit disruption in Seoul

City buses run with a notice of the Seoul-based bus union's planned general strike this week, Seoul, Sunday. (Yonhap)
City buses run with a notice of the Seoul-based bus union's planned general strike this week, Seoul, Sunday. (Yonhap)

Seoul could be headed for a major public transit disruption this week, with the Seoul Bus Union set for a general strike Tuesday.

According to the Seoul Metropolitan Government on Sunday, the Seoul Bus Union is planning a general strike early Tuesday morning if wage negotiations do not come through.

The general strike, if it takes place, could further disrupt public transit across the city, after a disability advocacy group recently resumed staging subway protests, demanding improvements for their mobility rights.

The union previously said the strike plan in Seoul was supported by 87.3 percent of participants in a vote. The union also warned that around 98 percent of buses in the city will be off the roads if the union goes on strike.

If the strike goes ahead, it will be the first time in 10 years for city buses to stop operating in Seoul.

Amid mounting concerns, the union and bus companies will come to the bargaining table on Monday, a day prior to the planned general strike.

However, it is uncertain if bus companies will agree to the union’s demands, including a wage increase of 8.09 percent.

Calls for a strike came initially after bus companies and drivers failed to narrow differences during multiple rounds of wage talks earlier this year.

Last year, bus companies and workers agreed to not raise wages, mainly based on a mutual understanding of the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

But, this year, bus companies continued to reject workers’ pay increase proposals and demanded another freeze for a second consecutive year.

The union criticized the Seoul city government’s diminishing financial support to bus operators, which has caused difficulties in wage negotiations for bus drivers.

In Seoul, the city government foots the financial losses of city bus operators in return for operating an extensive bus network, which is not necessarily lucrative.

According to the union, the Seoul Metropolitan Government’s budget for city buses this year came to 383.8 billion won ($308.2 million), down 29 percent from four years ago, while the city government’s total budget increased by some 40 percent to 39.2 trillion won over the same period.

The Seoul Metropolitan Government said it will carefully monitor how negotiations go on Monday, adding that it will prepare for emergency measures in case the union goes on strike.

By Shim Woo-hyun (