© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol attends the ASEAN summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia November 11, 2022. REUTERS/Cindy Liu
It’s Joyce Lee
SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol has warned that the government may take steps to end the country’s crackdown on motorists, saying it is illegal and unacceptable to take the country’s national “prisoners” at a time of economic crisis.
Thousands of truckers launched their second strike in less than six months on Thursday, and it is already showing signs of disrupting many industries in the world’s 10th largest economy.
“People cannot afford to take the risk of the global crisis,” Mr. Yoon said in a Facebook (NASDAQ: ) message on Thursday, saying that exports were crucial to combating economic instability and financial instability.
“If the non-transit resistance continues, the government will have no choice but to review several options, including the plan to start operations.”
According to South Korean law, in times of major disruption in the management system, the government can issue an order to force workers to return to their jobs. A person who fails to obey the sentence faces up to three years in prison, or a fine of up to ¥30 million ($22,550).
If the government takes this step, it will be the first time in South Korea’s history that such a law has been issued.
Transportation Minister Won Hee-ryong told reporters on Thursday that the ministry has begun the process of issuing the law.
The head of the Cargo Truckers Solidarity Union (CTSU), Lee Bong-ju, said the truckers have no choice but to strike after the government suspended negotiations and has not wanted to negotiate since then.
“The Yoon Suk-yeol government is threatening to respond boldly without making any effort to stop the boycott,” Lee told reporters on Thursday.
On the first day of the strike, the Korea International Trade Association (KITA) said it had received 19 reports of supply disruptions. These included failure to deliver raw materials, high cost of goods and late delivery leading to sanctions and trade with foreign buyers being cancelled.
In one case, equipment from a pharmaceutical company was delivered under police protection after a delivery truck was blocked by drivers from entering the factory, KITA said.
The cement industry lost about 19 billion won ($14.26 million) on Thursday, lobby group Korea Cement Association said, after supplies fell to 10,000 tons due to the boycott. This compares with 200,000 tons of cement in South Korea during the peak season between September and early December.
The union says around 25,000 people have joined the strike, out of 420,000 transport workers in South Korea. The transport ministry said around 8,000 people had set up camp on Thursday at key sites for the overnight protests.
($1 = 1,332.4700 won)