Tens of thousands of taxi drivers in South Korea have taken to the streets after walking off the job to protest against a commercial ride-sharing app that they say will destroy their jobs and threaten their livelihoods.
The rally on Thursday in the capital, Seoul, came days after the suicide of a taxi driver who set himself on fire in protest against the plans to introduce carpooling service Kakao Mobility, a unit of popular mobile messenger operator Kakao Corp.
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The protesters, who wore black headbands and ribbons to mourn their 57-year-old colleague, chanted slogans such as “combat illegal carpool” as they rallied in front of the National Assembly.
“If the [Kakao Mobility] service is implemented, my income will shrink by half. I’ll fall into poverty,” 62-year-old driver Yoon Woo-seok told the Associated Press news agency at the protest.
‘No way I can survive’
Opposition from taxi drivers and regulations in South Korea have hampered the introduction of new transport services such as those offered by US-based Uber Technologies.
Uber has a minimal presence in Asia’s fourth-biggest economy, offering the only taxi- and licensed-hire vehicle hailing after closing its main ride-sharing service in 2015 in the face of an extensive backlash from drivers.
But Kakao is used by more than 80 percent of South Koreans, and in recent months tens of thousands of taxi drivers have held mass rallies in Seoul against its upcoming ride-sharing service.
The company postponed the official launch of its carpooling service in the wake of the taxi driver’s suicide last week.
“We will have continued consultations with the industry, parliament and the government,” the company said on Thursday.
Taxi drivers say they already suffer from low income and long hours.
“My entire family is scraping a living on my tiny income,” said another protesting driver, Lee Nam-soo, 67.
He said he earned 80,000 won ($70) to 90,000 ($80) won a day.
“There’s no way I can survive if Kakao operates.”
The ruling party has created a task force to resolve the dispute, but it has not been able to agree on a compromise plan with the drivers.