South Korea Toughens Stance on Truckers Strike Amid Supply Disruptions

South Korea’s government on Thursday issued a second back-to-work order to thousands of striking truckers, toughening its stance after the ongoing truckers’ strike disrupted the country’s supply chains.

President Yoon Suk-yeol approved issuing the order on truckers in the petrochemical and steel industries, just a week after a similar order was issued for truckers in the cement industry, Yonhap News Agency (YNA) reported.

Those who violate the order can face up to three years in prison or a 30 million won ($23, 084) fine.

The truckers’ union responded by holding a vote on Friday to decide whether to continue its nationwide walkout.

Prime Minister Han Duck-soo urged striking truckers to end their “prolonged unjustifiable refusal of transportation,” saying that the strike was “seriously damaging” the local industry and economy.

“In particular, disruptions in shipments of steel and petrochemical products are likely to expand to key industries, such as automobiles, shipbuilding, and semiconductors, spreading to the overall crisis of the Korean economy,” he told the cabinet.

Han reaffirmed the government’s hard line on the nationwide truckers’ strike, saying that it “will not compromise on the illegality and hold them accountable.”

An official from the Presidential Office told YNA that the government is willing to open a negotiation table if truckers end their strike and return to work, but there can be no preconditions.

South Korean truckers went on a strike for the second time in a year to demand that the Safe Trucking Freight Rates System—designed to guarantee minimum freight rates for truckers— be extended.

While the government had agreed to extend the system for another three years, truck drivers refused to end their strike until it was made permanent and expanded to include more truckers. They claimed that spikes in fuel prices threatened their livelihoods.

Massive Disruptions in Production

The strike has cost the country an estimated 1.3 trillion won ($1 billion) in losses, with the output in the petrochemical sector hovering at 20 percent of average days and steel shipments decreasing to 48 percent, according to the Finance Ministry.

Finance Minister Choo Kyung-ho said that the prolonged strike is hurting the national economy when the country is dealing with inflation and high-interest rates.

“When petrochemical plants also suspend their operations, it will be inevitable to suffer massive disruptions in production, as it takes at least two weeks to restart them,” Choo said told reporters, reported Yonhap.

The order issued last week resulted in cement shipments returning to normal levels, as authorities launched an on-site investigation of 33 truck operators and 778 drivers in the cement industry.

Yoon last week urged relevant ministries to mobilize their administrative powers to deal with the prolonged strike, describing it as a “political strike” that threatens people’s livelihoods and the national economy.

“If this is not done, chronic illegal strikes and resulting public damage will inevitably be repeated in the future,” the president said in a statement.

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Aldgra Fredly is a freelance writer based in Malaysia, covering Asia Pacific news for The Epoch Times.

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