South Korea will hold its first talks Monday with striking truckers

The South Korean government will meet with a striking truckers union for the first talks of a five-day nationwide strike as supply chain failures worsen and concrete runs out at construction sites.

The government, which estimates daily losses at about 300 billion won ($224 million) due to shortages of cement and fuel for filling stations, raised its warning on the disruption of cargo transportation to the highest level.

But the union had little prospect of a breakthrough in the second major strike in less than six months as thousands of truckers demand better wages and working conditions.

“The position of the Ministry of Transport is already fixed and there is no room for negotiations, so this meeting is not a negotiation… the content is a demand for an unconditional return to work,” the union said in a statement on Sunday.

The strike is disrupting industrial activity at a time when Asia’s fourth-largest export-dependent economy faces lower-than-expected growth next year, after the central bank cut its 2023 forecast to 1, 7 percent from 2.1 percent.

“We need to establish a rule of law between workers and management,” President Yoon Suk-yeol Yoon said Monday, according to the presidential office.

Yoon, who criticized the strike for holding the nation’s logistics “hostage” in the face of an economic crisis, will hold a cabinet meeting on Tuesday to consider ordering truckers to return to work, his office said.

The law allows the government to issue such an order during a major transportation disruption, and failure to comply can be punished by up to three years in jail or a fine of up to 30 million won ($22,550).

The organizer of the strike, Cargo Truckers Solidarity Union (CTSU), has criticized the government for being unwilling to extend the minimum wage system beyond another three years, instead meeting union demands to make it permanent and extend its scope.

Container traffic at the ports was 21 percent of normal levels as of 10 a.m. Monday, the Transport Ministry said, up from Friday’s figure of 49 percent.

The steel industry, including POSCO and Hyundai Steel, saw shipments more than halved to 22,000 tons on Sunday, below the usual average of 46,000 tons, the Ministry of Transport said.

Some service stations could run out of gasoline and kerosene this week, especially in big cities, even though supplies were secured before the strike.

That’s because 70 to 80 percent of truckers at major refineries like SK Energy and SK Innovation’s S-Oil Corp are striking union members.

Since last week, 259 of 459 construction sites have suspended ready-mix concrete work, the Yonhap news agency said, while the Ministry of Transport said most sites were expected to sell out on Tuesday.

The cement industry estimated a cumulative production loss of about 46.4 billion won ($35 million) for Saturday, with shipments up 9 percent of usual levels, the Korea Cement Association said.

“Non-union bulk cement truck owners, who implicitly sympathize with or fear the illegal activities of the freight union, are giving up cement transportation,” the lobby group said in a statement.

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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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