South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol has warned the government might step in to break up a nationwide strike by truckers, describing it as an illegal and unacceptable move to take the national supply chain “hostage” during an economic crisis.
Thousands of unionised truckers kicked off their second large strike seeking better pay and working conditions in less than six months on Thursday. The action is already disrupting supply chains across the world’s 10th-largest economy, affecting automakers, the cement industry and steel producers.
Union officials said there were no negotiations or dialogue ongoing 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 about 25,000 people were joining the strike, out of about 420,000 transport workers in South Korea. The transport ministry said about 7,700 people were expected to rally for the strike on Friday in 164 locations nationwide, down from 9,600 people on Thursday.
“The public will not tolerate taking the logistics system hostage in the face of a national crisis,” Yoon said in a Facebook message late on 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 number of measures, including a work start order.”
According to South Korean law, the government may issue an order to force transport workers back to their jobs during any serious disruptions. Failure to comply is punishable by up to three years of jail, or a fine of up to 30 million won ($22,550).
It would be the first time in South Korean history that such an order is issued if the government chooses to do so. Transport Minister Won Hee-ryong told reporters on Thursday that the ministry has already begun the groundwork for issuing the order.
The strike comes after South Korea saw October exports fall the most in 26 months as its trade deficit persisted for a seventh month, underlining the slowdown in its export-driven economy.
Amid the economic gloom, Yoon’s approval rating remained mostly flat for the fifth week at 30 percent, according to Gallup Korea on Friday, although his focus on economic affairs received a positive response.
The head of the Cargo Truckers Solidarity Union (CTSU), Lee Bong-ju, said the truckers had no choice but to strike after the…