Several activists were injured and arrested after members of the Korean Public Services and Transport Workers’ Union Cargo Truckers’ Solidarity Division (KPTU-TruckSol) began a national strike in opposition to the government’s plan for deregulation of the trucking transport market.
“It is unacceptable that the South Korean government is responding to the legitimate demands of workers with intimidation, violence and arrests,” said Tony Sheldon, national secretary of the Transport Workers’ Union of Australia (TWU) and ITF road transport section chair.
“Instead of continuing to violate drivers’ rights, the South Korean government should sit down with TruckSol and discuss how it is going to live up to its commitment to introduce standard rates,” he added.
ITF president Paddy Crumlin commented: "These mass actions are a huge rejection of the government’s plans. They represent of a struggle for workers’ rights, wages and job security. As Korean workers mobilise, so must we. They are under police attack. They need and deserve our support and the way is open to all unions and trade unionists to offer it.”
ITF general secretary Steve Cotton added: "We vow that ITF unions have and will set an example to the world in the solidarity they offer their Korean colleagues. This strike and the strikers will be supported to the hilt until the attacks on unions in Korea and the attempts to undermine workers’ conditions cease."
The arrests and injuries occurred after 4,000 police surrounded rallying strikers and supporters in front of the Busan New Port.
The South Korean government is promising strict reprisals, including suspension of fuel subsidies, cancellation of licenses and criminal charges, for those who participate in or lead the strike. The ITF and other unions around the world have strongly condemned this heavy-handed response.
One of South Korean truck drivers’ main demands is the introduction of a system of ‘standard rates’, which includes accountability for clients and transport companies up the supply chain. The South Korean government committed to implement a standard rates system in 2009, but has since failed to live up to its promise. Around 1,200 people die in truck-related crashes in Korea each year.
TruckSol’s proposal for safe rates is similar to the Australian Safe Rates model, which received strong support at a tripartite meeting on safety and health in the road transport sector held by the International Labour Organisation last year.
Speaking at the TruckSol strike rally at Uiwang ICD earlier in the day, KPTU President Jo Sangsu stressed: “Real reform of the trucking transport market must begin with making large corporate clients accountable.”
“The fight in South Korea is important in the worldwide effort to win a global standard for safe payment levels and conditions for truck drivers, which is also the best way to improve road safety,” Tony Sheldon commented. “The TWU, the ITF call on the Korean government to stop repressing workers and instead engage in sincere negotiations with TruckSol and KPTU,” he added.