South Korea’s Yun prepares to extend order to return to work amid strike

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol on Sunday ordered preparations to expand a back-to-work order outside the cement industry amid a protracted strike by truck drivers.

Thousands of South Korean truck drivers have been on strike for more than 10 days, with government and union negotiators making no progress on disagreements over minimum wage rules.

Yun, a conservative, on Tuesday invoked a “go-to-work” order, the first in the country’s history, for 2,500 drivers in the cement industry, requiring them to get back on the road or face penalties.

On Sunday, Yoon urged government ministers to prepare to issue a reopening order in sectors such as oil refining and steelmaking where further damage is expected, spokesman Lee Jae-myung said in a statement.

Yun called for those who break the law during the strike to be punished, ordering ministers to take action to minimize damage, such as hiring alternative drivers, military personnel and military equipment.

The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, a union group, plans a general strike for Tuesday.

“I can’t help but view this planned strike as a politically motivated action rather than one aimed at representing workers’ rights,” Yoon said, according to Lee, signaling a potentially harsh response from the government.

“Holding people’s lives and the national economy hostage at this time of economic hardship makes the survival of weak, disorganized workers more difficult and deprives future generations and the general public of their future jobs,” Yoon said.

The strikes disrupted South Korea’s supply chain and cost 1.6 trillion won ($1.2 billion) in lost shipments in the first seven days, the industry ministry said Thursday.

The government has said it will not extend the minimum wage system for lorry drivers for another three years. The union says it should be permanent and wider in scope.

Thousands protested in central Seoul on Saturday in support of the truck drivers’ demands.

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