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South Korean truck drivers begin unlimited national strike action for Safe Rates

news 07 Jun 2022

Today in South Korea truck drivers have begun unlimited strike action. The ITF-affiliated Korean Public Service and Transport Workers’ Union Cargo Truckers’ Solidarity Division (KPTU-TruckSol), estimates that 15,000 members participated in strike rallies held in 16 locations across the country today, and several thousand more drivers, both members and non-members, joined the strike in solidarity. The impact of the strike is already being felt at ports, petrochemical complexes, and other logistics hubs, where freight transport has slowed or stopped all together.

Most of Korea’s 420,000 owner truck drivers have seen their earnings erode over the past months amidst soaring fuel prices and cost of living. However, for the roughly 6.5% of drivers (those driving in the container and bulk cement sectors) who are covered by South Korea’s Safe Rates system, minimum rates of pay calculated based on operating costs, have cushioned the blow, allowing drivers to make a living without driving dangerously long hours, speeding, or overloading their vehicles.  

Yet the system is scheduled to be phased out at the end of this year. The conservative Yoon Seok-youl Government has delayed discussion of legislation to extend the system, while promising to crackdown against striking workers.

KPTU-TruckSol is demanding that Safe Rates be made permanent, and coverage extended to all vehicle and freight types. The union is calling for road transport economic employers and transport companies in sectors which are not currently covered by Safe Rates agree to increase pay rates to account for the cost –of living crisis.

“The experience of truck drivers in the sectors covered by Safe Rates has demonstrated that making Safe Rates permanent and expanding the system to cover all vehicle and freight types is the best way to protect drivers and all those who use the roads,” said ITF General Secretary Stephen Cotton.

“It is truly regrettable that the South Korean Minister of Labour left the country yesterday unannounced – to come to the ILO of all places – instead of working to find a fair solution to the current dispute. We are firmly committed to supporting KPTU-TruckSol throughout the strike and will not stand by if the South Korean Government seeks to arrest striking workers or takes other retaliatory or discriminatory actions,” said Cotton.

Recently, over 30 ITF affiliates globally showed their solidarity to their brothers and sisters in South Korea as part of a week of action in support of Korean Safe Rates.

“ITF unions worldwide stand firmly with KPTU-TruckSol because they understand how important Safe Rates is to transport workers in Korea and globally,” said Noel Coard, ITF Inland Transport Sections Secretary. “The fight for Safe Rates in South Korea is a fight for road safety and decent work everywhere.”