Truckers’ strike threatens soju and cement supplies

Members of the cargo truck drivers’ solidarity strike at the Uiwang Inland Container Depot on Tuesday. [YONHAP]

Unionized truckers went on strike on Tuesday to demand higher wages and an extension of support measures, which could lead to disruptions in the transport of cement and soju.

Cargo Truckers Solidarity, the union leading the strike, said around 25,000 truckers would take part. Workers will not transport goods and will block the doors of distribution centers.

Participants make up only about six percent of the 420,000 truckers in Korea, but that could create a problem for construction as many cement truckers are participating. Of the 2,700 bulk cement trailer trucks in Korea, about half are unionized.

The union is part of the Korea Public Service and Transport Workers Union and part of the more radical Korean Confederation of Trade Unions.

Despite the figures given by the union, the Ministry of Lands, Infrastructure and Transport said around 8,200 truckers took part in the strike on Tuesday.

Unionized truckers are calling on the Department of Transportation to extend the so-called haulage fee system, introduced in 2020 but set to end in December 2022. The system requires minimum payments to truckers each month. The ministry introduced the support measure saying the extra pay will prevent truckers from overloading themselves with too many orders, risking traffic accidents by driving too fast or overloading their trucks.

Truckers are asking the government to extend the program because they need extra pay due to soaring fuel prices. They are also calling for an increase in freight rates. The strike will continue until their demands are met.

President Yoon Suk-yeol said the strike will be handled according to law.

“Whether it is unfair labor actions by employers or illegal actions by workers, I have made it clear since the election campaign that they will be dealt with according to law,” Yoon told reporters. Tuesday, arriving at the presidential office. and asked about the strike.

Under Korean law, strikes must be led by a union, must deal with labor issues, but be authorized by vote and must not involve violence.

The National Police Agency said it would arrest any union members who engage in illegal activity or disrupt non-striking truckers.

Despite severe measures, supply disruptions could be felt.

About 1,000 union workers gathered outside the Uiwang Inland Container Depot in Gyeonggi on Tuesday morning, announcing the strike, sitting on the road and parking trucks to block the gates of the distribution center. This interrupted transport from the center. The cement is transported to the greater Seoul area from the center and is used by companies such as SsangYong C&E, Hanil Cement and Sungshin Cement.

When the union went on strike in November last year, also refusing to transport goods, the Korea Cement Association said the volume of cement transported that month fell by 80% compared to the last month.

Around 130 unionized workers under Cargo Truckers Solidarity have been on an early strike since June 2 demanding similar action and refusing to deliver goods. The 130 are under contract with Suyang Logistics to transport soju from HiteJinro factories in Icheon, Gyeonggi and Chungju, North Chungcheong. These two sites produce 70% of the company’s production.

With less soju transported from factories to retailers, 7-Eleven and Ministop have limited orders to one box of HiteJinro soju per branch per day starting June 4. Each box contains 20 bottles. Emart24 allows each branch to order three boxes per day.

Korea’s 12 ports, including Busan Port and Incheon Port, had a port equipment rate of 68.1 percent on Tuesday. The rate indicates the amount of containerized cargo in the ports compared to the total capacity. A figure above 80% indicates that the port needs more space.

The Incheon Port Authority has designated a port hinterland of 401,190 square meters (4.3 million square feet) to temporarily store containers that may need to stay at Incheon Port for a long time. The area can store 33,667 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) of containers. Busan Port is temporarily using nearby lots, giving it additional space to store 22,432 TEU.

Five trucks belonging to the Ministry of National Defense were dispatched to deliver goods from major ports, such as Busan and Incheon ports, in a bid to mitigate the effects of the strike.

BY LEE TAE-HEE [[email protected]]

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