The South Korean Government is not too keen on entertaining the demands of 25000 truckers who are on strike for the second time in the last six months. The country’s economy is virtually held hostage and according to a report the strike has cost $1.2 billion just in the last 7 days. 60 petrol stations had run dry by Friday and the rest may last another week with the current stock. The fuel deficiency caused by the strike has impacted the lives of people the most and most of the South Korean public is cold towards the protesting truckers considering how it has affected them.
The South Korean president has claimed that the demands made by the truckers are unjustified. The interior minister has called the truckers well-paid “labour aristocracy”. However, it is important to take note of the story of the other side.
The South Korean government issued a minimum wage protection scheme in 2020 which benchmarked the freight rate for truckers in the steel and fuel industries. The truckers demand that the wage protection scheme be expanded to bring more truckers under it. Not only does the government not want to expand the plan but it also refuses to extend it further than the end of this year. There is an atmosphere of insecurity among the truckers.
The prices of diesel have nearly doubled in the last twelve months which means the truckers are earning much less than they were last year whereas the average price of consumer goods has climbed up by 5%. At this rate, the truckers just have enough resources to support their basic needs for one month, surely not enough to be called labour aristocracy.
Kim, a 63-year-old protesting trucker said, “Maybe our life can be better if freight rates are stable.” It breaks Kim’s heart that his wife has to perform hard physical labour even after crossing retirement age in order to support their family. The stories are pretty similar across the protestors. They earn 3-4 million won a month working 10-12 hours a day, sometimes over the weekends. Their families are now worried that they might lose their jobs, but the protest goes on.