“This solution has already been endorsed by the ILO. It’s time for governments, employers and clients to come to the table with unions and put this solution into practice.”
- ITF General Secretary Stephen Cotton
More than five thousand Korean truck drivers have rallied in front of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport in Seoul demanding the preservation and expansion of the Korean ‘Safe Rates’ system.
This massive show of force is likely only the beginning of industrial action in the Korean road transport industry. Earlier in the week the Korean Public Service and Transport Workers’ Union Cargo Truckers’ Solidarity Division (KPTU-TruckSol) announced plans to escalate actions with a national strike in November should the government and corporations fail to accept their demands.
The ‘Safe Rates’ system, which makes client companies accountable for minimum pay rates and safe working conditions, has been in force in South Korea since 2020, but is facing strong legal and legislative challenges from industry and conservative forces.
Massive outpouring of international solidarity
KPTU-TruckSol members were building on momentum generated by the International Transport Workers’ Federation’s Week of Action for Decent Work and Safety in Road Transport (21 – 28 October), which culminated with their rally in Seoul. During the Action Week, ITF affiliates from Africa, the Arab World, Asia Pacific, Latin America, Europe and North America sent messages of solidarity to their Korean brothers and sisters, with many targeting Korean embassies and trade bodies.
In Washington D.C. a delegation from the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) staged a protest action at the overseas office of the Korea International Trade Association (KITA), an association representing companies that has been opposing Safe Rates. In a letter delivered to the KITA, IBT General President and ITF Road Transport Section Chair Jim Hoffa called on the association to “do (its) part as a responsible stakeholder in ensuring that the Safe Rates system can work as designed to advance decent work for truck drivers and safety of the entire road-using public in South Korea.” He also noted that, “It is essential that systems like Safe Rates, which guarantee safe and fair pay and working conditions for truck drivers irrespective of their legal employee status, are maintained and expanded,” to address global supply chain bottleneck.
Different country, same demands
Many road transport unions also used the Action Week to make demands of their own governments, employers, and client companies. In Australia, the Action Week saw the climax of a month of rolling strikes with 24-hour work stoppages by StarTrack and FedEx workers. The Transport Workers’ Union of Australia (TWU) is calling for job security guarantees and federal action on safe and fair minimum standards.
Korean and Australian road transport workers were joined by their brothers and sisters in countries across the world who brought demands for the implementation of Safe Rates, improved supply chain regulation and guarantees for fair and safe pay and conditions to governments, employers, and client companies. Several unions also used the action week as an opportunity to educate union members and officers about the ILO Guidelines on the Promotion of Decent Work and Road Safety in the Transport Sector, which outline the responsibilities of client companies and employers for decent pay and conditions for road transport workers.
“The unbelievable outpouring of global solidarity has strengthened our resolve to do everything we can to strengthen our Safe Rates system,” said KPTU-TruckSol President Bongju Lee. “It is particularly empowering to know that road transport union in other countries are making the same demands as we are and share our vision for as safe and sustainable industry,” he added.
Following the action week, the ITF will be working with unions to strengthen organisation and action and keep the pressure on for implementation of the ILO guidelines.
“The Week of Action has been successful in making governments and corporations around the world know that we have a solution to the crisis in road transport,” said ITF General Secretary Stephen Cotton. “It is called decent work and safe rates and it starts with accountability from the companies at the top of supply chains. This solution has already been endorsed by the ILO. It’s time for governments, employers and clients to come to the table with unions and put this solution into practice.”