South Korean truck drivers vote to end nationwide strike

Union members vote to end walkout after government invokes tough strike-busting law.

South Korean workers march during a rally in support of the ongoing strike by truckers near the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea.
South Korean truck drivers have voted to end a nationwide strike that began on November 24 [File: Yonhap via Reuters]

South Korean truck drivers have voted to end a nationwide strike over minimum freight rates amid rising fuel expenses and living costs.

In a vote on Friday, 62 percent of union members voted in favour of ending the strike after more than two weeks of industrial action, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported.

Just over 3,570 of the union’s more than 26,100 members participated in the vote, Yonhap said.

The South Korean government has blamed the strike for disrupting supply chains and causing fuel shortages across the country, estimating the walkout inflicted losses on the steel and petrochemical industries totalling 1.3 trillion won ($999.1m).

President Yoon Suk-yeol, who accused the drivers of holding the transport network “hostage” amid tough economic conditions, on Thursday invoked tough strike-busting laws to order truckers serving the oil refining and steelmaking sectors back to work, after issuing a similar order last month for the cement industry.

Critics have argued the anti-strike law, which imposes penalties for non-compliance of up to three years in jail or a fine of up to 30 million won ($22,550), is draconian and possibly unconstitutional.

In a letter sent to the South Korean government last week, the International Labour Organization (ILO), the UN’s labour agency, said that return-to-work orders violate workers’ freedom of association rights and authorities should not impose criminal penalties against those involved in peaceful strike action.

The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), South Korea’s largest umbrella union, compared Yoon’s order to the imposition of martial law.

Up to 25,000 unionised and non-union drivers went on strike on November 24 to demand that a minimum pay system be made permanent and expanded in scope. The government had offered to extend the system for three years, which the drivers argued did not go far enough.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies