South Korean truckers end strike; Government agrees to extend payment guarantee

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The latest round of talks took place at a major industrial transport hub near the capital, where Transport Minister Won Hee-ryong earlier warned the government could step in and force truckers back to work or face in jail.

Unionized South Korean truckers and the Department of Transportation reached a tentative agreement on minimum wage guarantees on Tuesday as part of a late-night deal ending a nationwide strike that has crippled ports and centers industrialists, both sides said.

The eight-day strike has delayed freight shipments for industries from autos to petrochemicals and spirits in the heavily exporting nation, and cost the South Korean industry more than $1.2 billion in production lost and in unfulfilled deliveries, according to the Ministry of Industry.

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The latest round of talks took place at a major industrial transport hub near the capital, where Transport Minister Won Hee-ryong earlier warned the government could step in and force truckers back to work or face in jail.

The Ministry of Transport and the truckers’ union have reached an agreement to extend the minimum wage system for truckers and continue discussions on extending a minimum wage guarantee for the transport of goods to cover additional products, a union official told reporters.

“The Cargo Truckers Solidarity Union will return to work immediately, and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport will do everything possible to ensure that truckers can return to work…” the union said in a statement.

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In a separate statement, the Department for Transport said it would work with Parliament to extend the minimum wage guarantee and consider expanding subsidies and fuel support “to alleviate hardship for truckers following the recent rising oil prices”.

The truckers’ strike cost South Korea’s auto industry about 5,400 vehicles in lost production worth about 257 billion won on Sunday, according to the industry ministry.

Average daily shipments of about 74,000 metric tons of petrochemical products were reduced by 90 percent due to the strike, the Korea Petrochemical Industry Association said.

Small business owners had expressed concern about the havoc a long strike could have on recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, as truckers launched their action less than two months after social distancing standards were lifted .

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“Small business owners wait helplessly,” a dozen lobby groups representing these businesses said in a joint statement, adding that shipments of alcohol, food, agricultural and fish products had been blocked.

An official from HiteJinro Co Ltd, the biggest brewer of South Korea’s soju liquor, said its shipments had been reduced by around 40% by the strike.

“It was the breaking point, but it went well,” said trucker Kang Myung-gil, a 50-year-old father of three who joined the strike despite not being in the union. to protect his family’s livelihood.

“It’s going to be a sweet sleep.”

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