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Make Safe Rates laws permanent unions and academics tell South Korean lawmakers

29 Sep 2022

There is overwhelming evidence for the link between road safety and driver pay, international experts and global union leaders told South Korean lawmakers this week. 

A discussion forum on the ‘Global Trends towards Safe Rates and Implications for Legislative Improvements’ was held in the South Korean National Assembly on 28 September, the day before a parliamentary committee started reviewing an extension of the Safe Rates legislation which is set to lapse at the end of the year. 

Members of the Assembly heard from a delegation from the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), which included unionists and academics from the UK, Belgium, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and Australia, all of whom have expertise and experience in driver conditions and road safety. They gave full backing to the Safe Rates campaign of ITF affiliate the Korean Public Service and Transport Workers’ Union Cargo Truckers’ Solidarity Division (KPTU-TruckSol). 

“Our message is clear: legislating for minimum standards of truck driver pay and conditions saves lives,” said Stephen Cotton, the ITF’s General Secretary. “The Safe Rates law lapses at the end of this year and some businesses have been shamelessly lobbying to stop its renewal. They want to trim costs by putting Korean road-users lives on the line. But Korea’s lawmakers and transport authorities around the world must understand: Safe Rates works.” 

The South Korean Safe Rates system was introduced into law in 2018 and sets minimum safe rates of pay and conditions for some truck drivers. It holds clients of trucking firms accountable for ensuring that minimum pay levels are maintained, taking dangerous cost-cutting pressures out of the system by law. 

Research by KPTU-TruckSol and the Korean government shows that Safe Rates has dramatically improved road safety risks in South Korea. Drivers are working shorter (more reasonable) hours – fatigue is a major risk factor. Because they are guaranteed decent pay and conditions, they are under less pressure to exceed speed limits or to overload their trucks. These too are major risk factors in road accidents. 

During the Discussion Forum, David Peetz, Professor Emeritus from Griffith University in Australia, explained that the Safe Rates system in New South Wales had saved at least 205 lives between 1989 and 2021. Research by other scholars has shown comparable results, underscoring the effectiveness of this type of programme. 

The Forum also heard testimony from union leaders on the vast array of international research, and evidence from drivers, that demonstrated the strong link between road safety and driver pay. These testimonies highlighted to lawmakers the importance of the South Korean Safe Rates system as a model for other countries to follow. 

The Korean Safe Rates system was integral in the development of the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Guidelines on the Promotion of Decent Work and Road Safety in the Transport Sector, which were adopted by a meeting of tripartite experts in 2019. 

“It is unthinkable that Safe Rates wouldn’t be renewed,” said Cotton. “The South Korean system has become a model for countries around the world.”  

The parliamentary committee will continue to debate the legislation through the month of October. Should the bill pass the committee it will be passed to the National Assembly plenary for a final vote.