The South Korean economy is beset by unfavorable factors including an unstable global supply of goods, surging prices of materials and “three highs” -- high interest rates, high inflation and high exchange rates -- plaguing the Korean currency.
Then yet another issue looms large: an industrial strike.
The Cargo Truckers Solidarity, affiliated with the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, went on an indefinite general strike on Tuesday -- six months after their last strike. General strikes have become habitual.
Considering that it is a critical time for industries seeking to rebound from the negative economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the strike must be resolved as soon as possible.
The truckers’ union and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport held their first round of negotiations last Thursday over its major demand for the extension and expansion of the Safe Trucking Freight Rates System, but the two sides failed to narrow their differences.
Solidarity members interrupted shipments at some cement factories. Hyundai Steel’s Pohang factory cancelled shipments of their products in North Gyeongsang Province. The country’s largest liquor maker HiteJinro suspended shipments at its Cheongju factory in North Chungcheong Province.
The general strike is a litmus test of the new administration’s labor policy in that it is the first major strike after President Yoon Suk-yeol was inaugurated.
Fortunately, Yoon made it clear that his government will respond according to the law and principles. It is a reasonable response. The previous administration effectively looked on and appeased unions.
The Safe Trucking Freight Rates System is a system of levying a fine on cargo owners if they pay rates lower than an appropriate level for safe shipping. It took effect in 2020 as a three-year sunset provision. It is bound to disappear from next year unless it is renewed.
The union demands that the sunset provision be abolished and the system be expanded to cover all truck types and all kinds of cargo items. The system limits items to containers and cement.
The root cause of the strike is the recent surge of diesel prices. The union argues that truckers’ income decreased by more than 2 million won ($1,590) a month because fuel prices rose sharply, while freight rates remain little changed.
Cargo owners maintain the position that the system should be terminated as scheduled because it imposes a heavy financial burden on them.
The government reportedly discussed with the union ways to improve truckers’ working conditions, held a debate last month to review the system’s performance and planned to form a “safe freight rates task force.”
Then the union abruptly turned its mode of behavior from discussion into a general strike. Criticisms that it seems to be politically motivated are hard to avoid.
Safe driving and expense reductions matter for truckers. Be that as it may, it is unfair to shift surging logistics costs excessively to cargo owners.
Government mediation to guide their search for a solution is important. More active mediation is required.
The unionized truckers must stop their general strike and come back to the negotiation table.
Signs of global supply normalization are still nowhere to be seen. Consumer prices hit a 14-year high of 5.4 percent in May. The nation faces tough economic conditions.
If logistics are paralyzed in this situation, the national economy will likely suffer irreparable damage. Livelihoods of the working class will become more difficult.
It is time for all economic actors to share their burdens and cooperate with one another.
The economic crisis is deepening, and the government has the will to resolve issues through dialogue. The unionized truckers need to think again about whether their general strike can receive popular support.
Whenever union members illegally occupied worksites and used habitual violence, the Moon administration effectively looked on and appeased them.
The Yoon government must not allow them to stay above the law any longer.
Legal and rational activities should be respected, but behavior that flout law and order should be dealt with strictly.
By Korea Herald (firstname.lastname@example.org