Bus strike on May 15 gets support from thousands

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Bus strike on May 15 gets support from thousands

A major transportation crisis is looming after bus drivers in Seoul voted to strike May 15, joining bus drivers from other regions, including Gyeonggi.

Bus drivers are demanding increase in their wages ahead of a shorter workweek starting in July as fewer working hours will inevitably translate into smaller paychecks.

According to the Korea Automobile & Transport Workers’ Federation on Thursday, 89.3 percent of 16,043 bus drivers from 61 bus companies in Seoul voted to strike while 469 opposed and 33 invalidated their ballots.

Bus drivers in Seoul, despite earning the biggest paychecks of all bus drivers in the country, are demanding a 5.98 percent increase in wages and an extension of their retirement age from 61 to 63.

As of March, there were 7,405 buses operating in Seoul on 354 routes owned by 65 companies.

Also on Thursday, 96.2 percent of bus drivers at all 15 bus companies in Gyeonggi voted in favor of next Wednesday’s strike. All 589 buses traveling between Gyeonggi and Seoul daily will likely not operate as 97.3 percent of the 1,324 unionized drivers were in favor of the strike.

The Gyeonggi union has been demanding that the companies raise drivers’ monthly wages from an average of 3.1 million won ($2,620) to the level earned by bus drivers in Seoul, which is around 3.9 million won.

“While it’s good that I would have more break time, I’m worried about the lower wage,” said a 46-year-old bus driver raising two sons, a 12 year old and a seven year old.

“In November, I received 4.16 million won in pretax wages for working 25 days, including bonuses,” said Lee. “But under the 52-hour workweek, I will be restricted to only 22 days, which means I will only take home 3.06 million won pretax.”

The driver said he currently works 60 hours a week, which helps him bring home roughly 3.5 million won a month.

“But after spending on our living expenses, children’s tuition as well as paying off our apartment loan and medical bills, there’s not much to live on,” Lee said.

He said bus drivers in Gyeonggi are trying to move to bus companies in Seoul or drive airport buses, which offer higher pay and a regular bonus every two months. Gyeonggi’s bus companies have refused the demands of the bus drivers, citing profitability concerns.

Gyeonggi bus companies - including local buses - will have to hire an additional 3,000 to 5,000 once the shorter workweek goes into effect.

Gyeonggi is not the only province facing problems with the shorter workweek.

As of Thursday, bus drivers in Busan, Ulsan and South and North Chungcheong voted to strike.

One of the biggest problems bus companies face is safety risks, as the new drivers that they recruit will be inexperienced.

The central government has remained on the sidelines, repeatedly saying the current tensions should be solved on the local government level.

“It is time for the central government to intervene if it hopes to achieve its goal of securing a safer bus transportation system and create quality jobs,” said an official at the Korea Automobile & Transport Workers’ Federation.

BY JEON IK-JIN, CHOI MO-RAN and LEE HO-JEONG [lee.hojeong@joongang.co.kr]
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