Fuel runs dry at South Korean petrol stations as truckers strike

Nearly 100 gas stations across the country are running out of fuel as 25,000 truck drivers demonstrate that they are overpaying.

A nationwide strike by South Korean truck drivers has caused nearly 100 gas stations across the country to run dry, government data shows, as a national union announced it would launch a general strike in support of the drivers.

The truck drivers’ strike over a minimum wage program, which began on November 24, has led to two negotiation sessions between the union and the government, but no breakthrough has been achieved so far.

As supplies of fuel and construction materials run out, the South Korean government has stepped up pressure to end the strike.

President Yoon Suk-yeol on Sunday ordered preparations to issue a return to work order for drivers in sectors such as oil refining and steel manufacturing, where additional economic damage is expected. Yoon called in such an order last week, the first in the country’s history, for 2,500 truck drivers in the cement industry.

The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), an umbrella union that includes the truckers’ union, called the president’s order to begin work the equivalent of martial law and said the government must negotiate.

The KCTU said it had planned a strike on Tuesday to support the truck drivers’ protests.

By Monday afternoon, nearly 100 gas stations were without fuel. About 60 percent of them were in Seoul and Gyeonggi province, a densely populated region near the capital, according to data from Korea National Oil Corp. That’s more than the 21 gas stations the Industry Ministry said had run out of fuel on Nov. 28.

Amid rising fuel costs, as many as 25,000 truck drivers are calling on the government to introduce a permanent minimum wage system known as the “Safe Freight Rate”, which was temporarily introduced in 2020 for a small portion of the country’s more than 400,000 truck drivers.

On their second strike in less than six months, those truck drivers are battling the bitter cold and the government’s narrative that they are well-paid “labor aristocracy.”

Yoon’s government has maintained that it would not give in to the union’s demands. The government has announced that it will extend the current program for another three years.

The effect of a general strike is unclear and depends on participation, said Han Sang-jin, a KCTU spokesman.
Labor Minister Lee Jung-sik said on Monday that a general strike would not receive public support.

The strikes have disrupted South Korea’s supply chain and cost more than 3.2 trillion won ($2.44 billion) in lost shipments in the first 10 days, the industry ministry said on Sunday.

Losses are expected to have increased in several industries, but traffic in ports has improved slightly to 69 percent of the pre-strike average, according to the government.

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Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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