Worries about S. Korean economy grow over truckers’ strike

By Hyung-jin Kim

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – South Korea’s prime minister warned Tuesday that disruptions of cargo transport by a nationwide truckers’ strike could cause “irrecoverable” damage to the country’s economy, as the protest entered its eighth day.

About 6,800 truckers rallied at various sites across South Korea on Monday, triggering delays in the shipment and delivery of key items such as steel, cement, petrochemicals and tires, the Transport Ministry said.

It said some steel and cement factories had halted operations. It accused some striking truckers of obstructing cargo transport at some major southeastern ports.

During a Cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Han Duck-soo, the country’s No. 2 official, called the reported transport obstructions “illicit activities” that would never receive public support, according to Cho Yong-man, a government spokesperson.

Cho cited Han as saying that the transport disruptions could pose “a big irrecoverable blow” to South Korea’s economy, which already faces other difficulties.

The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy said Monday that the first six days of the strike had caused an estimated 1.6 trillion won ($1.2 billion) in damages.

Striking truckers are calling for an extension of temporary guarantees of minimum wages amid soaring fuel prices. They met with government officials several times

without any breakthroughs. In a statement Monday, the Cargo Truckers Solidarity said the Transport Ministry lacked the resolve and capacity to narrow differences over the truckers’ demands. The Transport Ministry said the sides were to meet again

Tuesday evening.

Police said Monday that they had detained 44 striking truckers but released most of them except for two who were formally arrested. Two additional truckers were detained Tuesday, the Transportation Ministry said.

South Korean officials and experts say the strike’s damage has so far been limited to the country’s domestic industries, though a prolonged strike could undermine global supply chains already hit by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and China’s COVID-19 restrictions. There have been no reports yet of substantial disruptions of key South Korean export items such as semiconductors and automobiles, Industry Ministry officials said.