By Joyce Lee
SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol warned the government could intervene to break a nationwide truck drivers’ strike, calling it illegal and unacceptable to “hold the national supply chain hostage” during an economic crisis .
Thousands of unionized truck drivers kicked off their second major strike in less than six months on Thursday, and it is already showing signs of disruption across multiple industries in the world’s tenth-largest economy.
“The public will not tolerate the logistics system being held hostage in the face of a national crisis,” Yoon said in a Facebook post late Thursday, after saying exports were key to overcoming economic instability and volatility in the global economy. financial markets.
“If the irresponsible denial of transportation continues, the government will have no choice but to review a number of measures, including a work order.”
Under South Korean law, during a major disruption to transportation, the government can issue such an order to force transportation workers back to work. Failure to comply is punishable by up to three years in prison or a fine of up to 30 million won ($22,550).
If the government goes this route, it would be the first time in South Korean history such an order has been issued.
Transport Minister Won Hee-ryong told reporters on Thursday that the ministry has begun preparations for issuing the order.
The head of the Cargo Truckers Solidarity Union (CTSU), Lee Bong-ju, said the truckers had no choice but to strike after the government stalled negotiations and have not sought dialogue since.
“Yoon Suk-yeol’s government is threatening a harsh response without any effort to stop the strike,” Lee told reporters on Thursday.
For the first day of the strike, the Korea International Trade Association (KITA) said it had received 19 reports of logistics disruptions. These included the inability to source raw materials, increased logistics costs and delivery delays, leading to fines and the suspension of trade with foreign buyers.
In one case, raw materials for a chemical company were delivered under police protection after the transport vehicle was blocked from entering a factory by striking truck drivers, KITA said.
The cement industry suffered revenue losses estimated at 19 billion won ($14.26 million) on Thursday, said lobby group Korea Cement Association, after shipments fell to less than 10,000 tons due to the strike. This compares to the 200,000 tons of cement demand in South Korea in the high season between September and early December.
The union estimated that about 25,000 people took part in the strike, out of about 420,000 transport workers total in South Korea. The transportation ministry said about 8,000 people camped at key transportation points on Thursday to protest overnight.
($1 = 1,332,4700 won)
(Reporting by Joyce Lee; editing by Gerry Doyle and Kenneth Maxwell)