An incomprehensible strikeA group of truck drivers under the combative Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) has gone on strike over pay. The group took action on Tuesday, six months after it paralyzed nationwide distribution in November. The latest general strike was joined by 8,200 union members on the first day. As a result, the distribution of cement from major distribution centers across the country stopped. Steel from Hyundai Steel and soju from HiteJinro could not be exported.
The first strike since the start of the Yoon Suk-yeol administration in March is drawing attention from the public. President Yoon vowed to sternly react according to the law whether it be illegal acts by employers or illegitimate behavior by employees. After demonstrating a passive response to unauthorized strikes by the KCTU over the past five years, the police said there is the will to “react immediately to the illegal strikes.”
Such a stern response was absent during the five years of the Moon Jae-in administration. Unionists frequently staged illegal strikes accompanied by violence against managers and occupation of the headquarters of companies. Such aberrations continued in Gwanghwamun Square and Yeouido without any interruptions even at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. The liberal administration’s lenient response to their strikes took a heavy economic and social toll.
Compared to international labor laws, Korea’s mostly side with labor unions. Unless they use physical force, employers cannot even fill vacancies with other manpower. After the key clauses of the International Labor Organization went in effect in Korea, the right to strike was reinforced further. Laid-off workers and the unemployed are allowed to engage in union activities.
As unions have a more powerful negotiation tool, they must return to the bargaining table. Unionized truck drivers and freight owners and transportation companies are confronting each other over whether to extend the system of ensuring an appropriate level of transportation fees, which was introduced in 2018, to 2022 and beyond. Union members claim that they cannot survive without the system, while their counterparts contend they cannot run their business if the system continues.
Every citizen suffers from the skyrocketing oil and other prices from the Ukraine war. In such grim circumstances, labor unions must not paralyze the economy by their unwarranted strikes. The government must demonstrate the ability to bring them to the negotiating table and reach a compromise before it is too late.