Better late than neverA day is left before a general strike threatened by the nation’s bus union kicks off. If related parties fail to strike a deal by midnight and over 20,000 buses stop operating, it will spike an unprecedented transportation crisis. Despite Deputy Prime Minister for the Economy Hong Nam-ki’s meeting with union leaders and a vow to avert the crisis, a breakthrough is not on the horizon.
The strike was foreseen after the government excluded route buses from special exemptions for the government-pushed 52-hour workweek last July. At that time, industry analysts warned that the reduction of work hours will demand a large-scale recruitment of bus drivers. They also forewarned that the drastic cut in work hours will cause a big problem for drivers as it translates into a sharp reduction in their salaries. Nevertheless, the government was caught sitting on its hands.
The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport and the Ministry of Labor hurriedly held a joint meeting and expressed the need to raise bus fares to help bus companies to hire more drivers. Yet local governments, which have the authority to determine public transportation fares, are reluctant to take action. Local governments are of the position that the central government must take responsibility for subsidizing the fare hikes because “it implemented the 52-hour workweek.” In the face of an imminent commuting crisis, the central government and local governments are blaming one another.
The National Assembly also cannot avoid criticism. Lawmakers decided to exclude bus companies from exemptions for the 52-hour work cap, citing the need to reduce accidents from overworked bus drivers. Despite good intentions, the legislature did not present measures to deal with the problems.
We can hardly deny the need for the government to raise some of our public transportation fares. But the problem is timing. Who would agree to the hikes if the government proposes it after idling away a year? Heads of local governments will not accept the hikes because it hurts their likelihood of re-election. If a fare increase is really needed, the government should have persuaded the public in advance.
Land Minister Kim Hyun-mee claimed that the planned general strike has no direct relation with the 52-hour workweek. If the government tries to deny the ramifications of its policy, it cannot find solutions. It must have the wisdom to solve the complex issue among parties and have the courage to convince citizens to share the pain if the need arises.