The South Korean military has been called in to drive tractor-trailer trucks in an effort to keep containers moving at South Korean ports after talks in a week-old lorry drivers’ strike broke down.
The military, working in association with the South Korean Ministry of Transport, assigned members to begin driving the trucks, reported Reuters, noting that about 100 cargo lorries were being driven by the military to move containers in and out of the major ports.
Some 6,600 unionized truck drivers remained on strike, with police lines guarding the roads to prevent the strikers from attempting to interfere with the trucks by sitting down en masse on the roads in neat, socially distanced, columns and lines.
The fourth round of talks between the union and the government collapsed on Sunday June 12th.
Korean media is saying that the ministry had committed to bringing up the strikers’ demands in the legislative process if the drivers agreed to go back to work. They are demanding an extension on a minimum wage programme, which was launched during the pandemic but is due to expire this coming December.
The shipping industry was reported locally to be strongly opposed to the extension of the minimum wage programme.
Government officials said on Monday that the strike has already caused more than $1bn worth of economic damage. Kia Motors said it had begun suspending production at some plants. South Korea’s largest steel manufacturer, POSCO, said it was now beginning to suspend operations at some of plants for an undetermined period of time.
The government estimated that 450,000 tons of steel scheduled for deliveries last week failed to ship because of the strike. Ports continue to report a dramatic fall in volumes, leading to fears that the lack of shipments would quickly impact global industries. South Korea is a major semiconductor manufacturer.
The Ministry of Transport said that strikers had now appeared at 14 different locations across the country. The demonstrations remained peaceful. The police said they would arrest strikers for illegal actions, including any effort to block non-union drivers from continuing to work.