Striking South Korean truckers target fleas and curb port activity

ULSAN, South Korea, June 10 (Reuters) – Rebellious South Korean truckers launched a broader and more aggressive strike on Friday, threatening to dramatically cut shipments of raw materials for semiconductors and petrochemicals.

Entering its fourth day, the strike to protest soaring fuel prices halved production at the largest industrial complex of Hyundai Motor Co (005380.KS) on Thursday and disrupted shipments from several companies, including the giant steel company POSCO (005490.KS).

Container traffic in ports has also slowed down sharply. At the port of Busan, which accounts for 80% of the country’s container activity, traffic had fallen to a third of normal levels on Friday, a government official said.

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At the port of Incheon, it fell to 20% of normal levels while at the port of Ulsan, the industrial hub where much of the strike took place, container traffic has been completely suspended since Tuesday.

Some 7,500 members, or about 35% of the Cargo Truckers Solidarity union, are expected to strike on Friday, the transport ministry said. The government estimates that about 6% of the country’s 420,000 truckers are unionized.

The union argued that the number of strikers was much higher than government estimates and that many non-union truckers were also refusing to work.

South Korea is a major supplier of semiconductors, smartphones, automobiles, batteries and electronics and the latest industrial action further increases uncertainty over global supply chains already disrupted by strict COVID restrictions of China and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Facing one of his first major economic challenges, new President Yoon Suk-yeol has taken what he calls a neutral stance, saying the government should not get too involved.

That has alarmed some observers, who say Yoon’s remarks could hamper the government’s ability to find a solution.

“The government needs to review the demands of the union. They don’t need to accept all of them, but I think they could make it a little easier if they could consider giving subsidies so truckers can cope with soaring fuel prices,” said Shin Se-don, an economics professor at Sookmyung Women’s University.

The union said a meeting with the government on Friday ended without an agreement and they would meet again on Saturday.

HYUNDAI RESTRICTED

Share prices of large companies were little affected, as companies have enough inventory to ride out the strike for the time being.

Kim Gyeong-dong, an official with the truckers’ union, said the union had run out of funds to fund Thursday’s strike and it was unlikely the strike could last another 10 days.

Some companies were looking to develop new contingency plans.

“If the strike continues into next week, we need to reassess our shipping management,” said an official at a major South Korean electric vehicle (EV) battery maker, declining to be identified due to the sensitivity. from subject.

Outside the plant and the ports, union members did not physically block the gates, but flagged approaching vehicles driven by non-union truckers, asking them not to continue and to cooperate with the strike . The police were present, however, and trucks trying to pass would not be stopped.

Among the new actions, truckers plan to halt shipments of raw materials for semiconductors produced in Ulsan, Park Jeong-tae, a senior official with the truckers’ union, told Reuters on Friday.

Chipmakers Samsung Electronics Co (005930.KS) and SK Hynix (000660.KS) declined to comment.

Park added that union efforts had reduced the number of vehicles entering a major petrochemical complex in Ulsan to a tenth of normal levels and that he planned similar harsh strike action at other petrochemical complexes across the country.

Some 1,000 truck drivers protested outside Hyundai Motor’s main complex in Ulsan on Friday, a Reuters witness reported.

“There are disruptions in our production due to the truckers’ strike, and we expect production to be normalized as soon as possible,” a Hyundai spokesperson said.

Hyundai normally manufactures around 6,000 vehicles a day at its Ulsan plants.

The truckers, considered independent contractors in South Korea, are demanding wage increases and a promise to extend an emergency measure guaranteeing freight rates. The emergency measure was introduced during the pandemic and is due to expire in December.

According to the police, about 30 union members have been arrested so far.

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Reporting by Byungook Kim, Heekyong Yang, Joori Roh, Jack Kim, Choonsik Yoo and Ju-min Park; Additional reporting by Jihoon Lee and Cynthia Kim; Editing by Edwina Gibbs

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