‘We are not your enemy,’ say South Korean truckers on strike over minimum wage protection

UIWANG, South Korea, Dec 5 (Reuters) – Inside 5 white tents outdoors the Uiwang container depot close to Seoul, some 200 hanging truckers huddle round fuel heaters, attempting to fight the bitter chilly and the federal government narrative that they’re nicely paid by the “labour aristocracy”. .”

They’re nicely conscious of the impression their strike has had on South Koreans at a time of report inflation. However these drivers, and tens of 1000’s extra on strike throughout the nation, say their requires better minimal wage protections are all that stand between them and poverty.

“We’re not the enemy. We’re loyal to our nation, as a result of we’re contributing to exports,” mentioned Kim Younger-chan, a 63-year-old container truck driver who transports exports akin to family home equipment and cosmetics between Uiwang and Busan port. . “Our cash stretches to eat and reside for a month. Labor aristocracy? That is nonsense.”

Amid rising gasoline prices, as much as 25,000 truckers are asking the federal government for a everlasting minimal cost system generally known as the “Safe Cargo Tariff,” which was briefly launched in 2020 for a small fraction of the greater than 400,000 truckers.

President Yoon Suk-yeol has mentioned his administration won’t give in to what he calls “unjustified calls for” from the truckers’ union because the second main strike in lower than six months disrupts provides of vehicles, cement and gasoline. The inside minister and a ruling celebration spokesman have known as the truckers a “labour aristocracy”.

Pale and unshaven, the drivers enterprise out of their retailers a few occasions a day to chant slogans and hand out leaflets.

Kim mentioned excessive diesel costs imply their lives are not any higher than in June, after they went on an eight-day strike. He earns about 3 million received ($2,300) a month, a lot lower than final yr as a result of diesel costs have almost doubled.

The nation’s shopper costs additionally rose 5% in November in comparison with a yr earlier.

Kim mentioned he was heartbroken that his spouse, who’s previous retirement age, should work to help the household, mopping flooring and cooking for wages.

“Possibly our life will be higher if freight charges are secure,” he mentioned.

The federal government and union have sat down for talks twice, however are staying aside on two key points: extending minimal wage guidelines past the tip of this yr and increasing them to profit extra truckers.

The federal government has particularly mentioned it won’t prolong minimal wage safety to truckers within the gasoline and metal industries, saying they’re already nicely paid.

Considerations are rising about gasoline shortages and dearer groceries inflicting financial issues.

Lee Ji-eun, 36, a physician and mom of two, mentioned she rushed to gasoline her automotive on Thursday fearing shortages.

“I would like the federal government and truckers to come back to an settlement as quickly as doable. Strikes like this or by subway employees or civil servants — that injury is completed on to abnormal folks like me,” Lee mentioned.

Firstly of the strike, close to a serious oil storage facility that provides Seoul’s fuel stations, a dozen hanging tanker drivers had positioned their vehicles to dam visitors. On Thursday, they stopped after residents complained.

“I do know persons are getting chilly ft from this strike and so they’re saying, ‘Why once more?'” mentioned Ham Sang-jun, 49, a driver transporting oil for the primary refinery S-Oil Corp. (010950.KS) to fuel stations.

As of mid-Friday, 60 fuel stations had run out of gasoline, the Trade Ministry mentioned. Stations throughout the nation have been averaging every week’s provide as they’d secured shares earlier than the strike. learn extra

Together with Ham, about 90% of the 340 tanker drivers employed to produce S-Oil merchandise have left work, in line with Lee Geum-sang, their union chief.

Their households fear that they are going to lose their jobs.

Ham, a father of two youngsters, earns between 3 and 4 million received a month working 12-hour days, 5 days every week, usually nights and weekends. That is 2 million received lower than final yr attributable to gasoline prices.

“I really feel sorry for my spouse and my youngsters, as a result of I’m not a great father,” he mentioned. “However we now have to maintain the strike going for a greater future 10 years from now.”

Ju-min Park and Minwoo Park data; Edited by Jack Kim and Gerry Doyle

Our requirements: The Thomson Reuters Belief Ideas.

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