Gov’t considering issuing return-to-work order to striking fuel tanker drivers

SEOUL– The government is considering issuing an additional return-to-work order to striking truckers, this time on fuel tanker drivers, officials said Thursday, as their walkout in its eighth day has taken a toll on gasoline supplies.

Unionized truckers went on a nationwide strike last Thursday, demanding the government make a minimum freight rate system permanent, citing surging fuel costs. The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport on Tuesday ordered cement truck drivers to resume work or face penalties.
“Gas stations in the greater capital region have only two or three days of fuel in stock. If this continues, an additional return-to-work order is inevitable,” a senior official said.

As of 8 a.m., 33 gas stations nationwide had run out of fuel, including 11 in Seoul. It is larger than the previous day’s 23 stations facing fuel shortages, according to the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy.

Observers said the government may convene an extraordinary Cabinet meeting as early as Friday to invoke the back-to-work order on fuel tanker drivers.

The industry ministry said it held an emergency meeting with major oil firms and related associations Thursday to examine oil supply and demand situations to determine whether and when to impose the order.

The presidential office has also expressed concern about the supply shortage, which has forced the government to take emergency measures, including deploying military vehicles.

“We are watching with concern that the gasoline supplies began to suffer due to tanker drivers’ transport refusal,” a high-ranking presidential official told reporters on Wednesday.

The presidential office again appealed to all striking truckers to return to work as soon as possible during a media briefing by deputy presidential spokesperson Lee Jae-myoung in the afternoon.

“The prolonged strike by truckers has been causing growing inconvenience to the people. All of us are the victims of an indefinite suspension of transportation,” Lee said.

He estimated the tentative amount of strike-related damage in the cement, steel, auto and oil refining sectors at about 1.6 trillion won (US$1.23 billion).

Lee then emphasized the government’s efforts not to compromise on any illegalities in order to establish the rule of law between labor and management.

In addition to oil, meanwhile, officials are looking into ever worsening steel supplies, another official said, as the government plans to expand the back-to-work order in stages to truckers in other sectors.

The land ministry on Tuesday issued the order on drivers in the cement industry hit hardest by the stoppage. It was the first time the decree was imposed since it was enacted in 2004.

The order was approved during a Cabinet meeting on the same day presided over by President Yoon Suk-yeol.

Truckers who defy the order can be punished with the suspension and cancellation of their licenses, up to three years in prison or a fine of up to 30 million won (US$22,500).

Source: Yonhap News Agency