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South Korea’s Yoon warns against crackdown on truckers’ strike

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol has warned that the government could intervene to break up a nationwide truckers’ strike, describing it as an illegal and unacceptable move to hold the national supply chain “hostage” during a crisis. economic.

Thousands of unionized truckers began their second major strike on Thursday seeking better wages and working conditions in less than six months. The action is already disrupting supply chains in the world’s 10th largest economy, hitting automakers, the cement industry and steel producers.

Union officials said there were no ongoing negotiations or dialogue with the government. The country’s transport ministry said it requested talks with the union on Thursday, but the parties have yet to agree on a date.

Union officials estimated that some 25,000 people joined the strike, out of the 420,000 transport workers in South Korea. The Transport Ministry said some 7,700 people were expected to take part in the strike on Friday at 164 locations across the country, up from 9,600 on Thursday.

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“The public will not tolerate holding the logistics system hostage in the face of a national crisis,” Yoon said in a Facebook message late Thursday, noting that exports were key to overcoming economic instability and financial market volatility.

“If the irresponsible denial of transport continues, the government will have no choice but to review a series of measures, including an order to start works.”

Under South Korean law, the government can issue an order to force transportation workers to return to their jobs during any serious disruption. Failure to comply is punishable by up to three years in jail or a fine of up to 30 million won ($22,550).

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It would be the first time in South Korean history that such an order has been issued if the government decides to do so. Transportation Minister Won Hee-ryong told reporters on Thursday that the ministry has already begun preliminary work to issue the order.

The strike comes after South Korea’s October exports fell the most in 26 months as its trade deficit persisted for a seventh month, underscoring a slowdown in its export-led economy.

Amid the economic pessimism, Yoon’s approval rating held steady for a fifth week at 30 percent, according to Gallup Korea on Friday, though his focus on economic issues received a positive response.

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The head of the Cargo Truckers Solidarity Union (CTSU), Lee Bong-ju, said truckers had no choice but to go on strike after the government stalled negotiations.

“The Yoon Suk-yeol government is threatening a hardline response without any effort to stop the strike,” Lee told reporters on Thursday.

On the first day of the strike, the Korea International Trade Association (KITA) said it received 19 reports of logistics disruption cases. These included the inability to bring in raw materials, higher logistics costs, and delivery delays that led to fines and the scrapping of trade with foreign buyers.

In one case, raw materials for a chemical company were delivered under police protection after striking truckers prevented the transport vehicle from entering a factory, KITA said.

The cement industry suffered an estimated 19 billion won ($14.26 million) production loss on Thursday, the Korea Cement Association lobby group said, after shipments fell to less than 10,000 tons due to the strike.

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This compares with South Korea’s 200,000 t/d cement demand in the peak season between September and early December. Construction sites are at risk of running out of building materials after the weekend.

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The Industry Ministry said the steel sector also saw a drop in shipments on Thursday. POSCO, the country’s largest steelmaker, declined to comment on the scope.

Meanwhile, workers at Hyundai Motor’s Ulsan factory are expected to deliver around 1,000 new cars directly to customers on Friday, after delivering around 50 cars on Thursday, a representative of a separate union at the factory told the Reuters news agency. So far there has been no effect on car production, the official said.

Drivers recruited by Hyundai Motor’s logistics subsidiary Hyundai Glovis have also started delivering some Kia Corp cars by taking them directly from Kia’s Gwangju plant to customers, a Kia official told Reuters.

The official did not say how many Kia cars would be delivered directly to buyers.

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