[EDITORIALS]Lessons of the truck strikeAlthough the strike by independent truckers has ended after doing severe damage to the Korean economy, the problems surrounding the issue are far from being resolved. The standoff left many problems and side effects behind. The truckers forced demands one-sidedly through group action; the government made only concessions without applying legal principles; and the problem of restructuring the delivery and transportation system has not been touched.
The incident was a challenge to the government. Exports were disrupted and Korea’s credibility was on the verge of collapse. Seeing the lack of crisis management capability from the strike’s early stages, we lost confidence in our government. It claimed that, between the early draft agreement and the final result, no concessions were made to the truckers. But the final agreement includes such concessions demanded by the truckers as compensation for fuel-tax increases and protecting truckers under the industrial disaster insurance system. The truckers had rejected the deal earlier agreed to by their representatives, but the government surrendered to them despite its proclamations that the law should be respected.
As a result of this compromise, labor has been emboldened by the pro-labor posture of the Roh Moo-hyun government. The traditional collective bargaining season, or “spring struggle,” is approaching, with labor and management far apart on issues such as the five-day workweek and the conditions of part-time workers. Will the government resist if the labor resorts to brinkmanship to insist on its demands? If the government has the will to punish violators, it should make the ringleaders of the strike accountable.
We acknowledge the sufferings of independent truckers who complain that government agencies have turned a deaf ear to their pleas to restructure the multi-stage subcontract system. But the truckers federation is not a trade union under current law. The difficulties of their livelihoods have partly to do with the realities of the transportation industry. Their income has dropped due to the increased number of cargo trucks while volume of goods to be hauled has remained unchanged since the financial crisis in 1997. They forced the government to resolve a problem that should be adjusted by the market. The burden is to be shifted onto the shoulders of the people ― compensation for the fuel-tax increase will be paid from tax funds.
An important task ahead is restructuring Korea’s transport industry, including the multi-stage subcontract system and computerization of delivery and transportation information. The strike has greatly damaged Korean industry. If we can upgrade Korea’s transport industry to the level of advanced countries, however, the damage Korea suffered could be a valuable lesson. In order to maintain law and principle, we must be determined to pay for the inconveniences that follow. Unfortunately, the government failed to show the will and determination to persuade people. If a government yields to group action, its administration will be unstable.