South Korean truck drivers say strike is a fight for livelihood

Truckers are on strike for the seventh day on Monday, demanding rising fuel prices and minimum wage guarantee.

Kang Myung-gil parked his truck last week and stopped carrying products from a unit of Samsung Electronics and other major South Korean companies to the port of Incheon, joining a strike that affected industrial centers and ports Is.

Kang said his family’s livelihood is at stake, as rising fuel prices and other costs have made it impossible for him to move forward, while larger businesses may burden customers like himself with higher prices.

Kang, 50, said in an interview that he had no choice but to join the strike, even though he was not a member of the union.

“When the other side of the world is getting better, why is our side of the world getting backward and getting worse?” He asked.

Truckers are on strike for the seventh day on Monday, demanding rising fuel prices and minimum wage guarantee.

The action has crippled ports and cargo terminals in South Korea – a major supplier of auto, battery, semiconductor, smartphone and electronics goods – to global supply chains already disrupted by China’s COVID-19 sanctions and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. advancing.

Kang, a father of three, works 15 hours a day and says he earns about $2,300 a month. Since April, his monthly fuel bill has increased by about $1,000.

He has borrowed money from his in-laws to pay interest on his loan and says his $800 monthly income from his wife’s part-time job in the nursery is not enough to raise three children.

Demand for truckers is focused on the extension of the 2020 measure, called the “Safe Trucking Freight Rate,” which ensures a minimum wage and is set to expire this year.

The union says the measure is important to ensure that truck drivers work in permanent conditions. Being independent contractors, they say, it avoids fluctuating fuel prices and exploitation by powerful businesses.

President Yoon Suk-yol’s new government does not control parliament and says it is up to truckers to negotiate with owners and the opposition to extend the minimum wage guarantee.

“The most frustrating thing is that I am following all the rules, like installing low-emission equipment, even paying more money if I need it. But why is the situation torturing me now? And why should I let things go?” Kang said.

In 2019, he was paid 280,000 won for a 240 km (149 mi) round-trip between Incheon and the Samsung Display Panel Plant in Asan, although other truck drivers hired by high-level subcontractors were paid for the same trip. 320,000 won was paid for.

Under the minimum rate scheme introduced in 2020, the freight rate for all truck drivers, including non-union drivers, increased to about 350,000.

Diesel price at gas pumps was 1,960 Won per liter in May 2022, a jump of 46% compared to 1,340 won a year ago. Drivers say the price of mandatory urea solution for diesel vehicles has doubled since the supply crunch in November.

While the strike has largely been peaceful, tensions are rising as truckers lack funds to sustain their industrial operation.

Truck driver Park Kyung-soo said the drivers were fighting for fairness.

“We’re not beggars. We want our message to be heard for that fair share,” said Park, 55, as he was cooking inside a truck for fellow drivers in Incheon.

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(Reporting by Joo-min Park; Editing by Jack Kim and Stephen Coates)

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