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Outraged at rising deaths on roads, 10,000 Korean truck drivers rally for new Safe Rates legislation


With working conditions deteriorating and road traffic deaths surging in South Korea, truck drivers’ outrage is leading to mass protest. 

On Saturday, June 15, over 10,000 truck drivers rallied in front of the Korean National Assembly, demanding revival of legislation that set fair pay standards and saves lives.  

The Korean Public Service and Transport Workers’ Union Cargo Truckers’ Solidarity Division (KPTU-TruckSol) reports that the industry is in crisis since the government terminated the country’s Safe Rates system at the end of 2022.  

Government statistics reveal a grim reality: in 2023, 837 people died in truck crashes, with ‘traffic accidents outside the workplace’ being a leading cause of death in the transport sector. A union survey shows truck drivers’ income dropped by 16.4 percent forcing drivers to work longer hours. Alarmingly, 66 percent of drivers suffer ‘severe fatigue’, and 76.1 percent resort to speeding to make more deliveries and make ends meet.   

Between 2020 and 2022, the Safe Rates system set fair pay standards for certain categories of truck drivers, guaranteeing income, and reducing pressures that led to overwork, overloaded vehicles and unsafe driving. Despite massive strikes and public support, President Yun Seok Yeol’s conservative government let the system expire, plunging the industry back into chaos. 

“Since the end of the Safe Rates system, we’ve seen a return to low-cost tendering and a rapid deterioration in quality of life and safety for our members,” said Kim Dong-guk, KPTU-TruckSol president, during the protest.  

“With a new National Assembly now in session, we call on lawmakers and the Yun Seok Yeol administration to introduce a new Safe Rates system covering all road transport workers. If this legislation is not passed, we will unite in national strike action,” he warned.   

Also speaking at the rally, Gyohyeon Gu, President of the KPTU Riders’ Union Branch, commented: “Since app-based food delivery workers face changes in their pay rates at the whim of the company, TruckSol’s fight for Safe Rates has been a source of hope for us. We stand in solidarity with this fight to protect delivery workers’ safety.” 

As Korea grapples with these challenges, other countries are taking action to strengthen the regulation of road transport supply chains and improve drivers’ pay and conditions. Australia is set to implement new legislation on August 26, which will ensure fair pay across the road transport sector and that companies at the top of road transport supply chains are held accountable for standards within their supply chains.  

“The Korean government must follow Australia’s example,” urged President Kim. “Revive and expand the Safe Rates system for all road transport workers.” 

ITF General Secretary Stephen Cotton underscored this point: “Road transport workers should not be pressured to drive too long or too fast just to make ends meet. All supply chain actors, especially the big companies that ship their goods by road, must be held accountable for ensuring that drivers are paid fairly and can drive safely. 

"Road transport workers shouldn't have to choose between safety and making a living. Australia’s new laws reflect this principle. South Korea must do the same." 

With Australia's legislation coming into effect, the ITF and its affiliates are calling for global action to enact Safe Rates laws, ensuring fairness, safety, and accountability in road transport supply chains.