In the Cabinet meeting convened directly by himself on Tuesday, Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol decided to issue an executive order to force striking truckers transporting cement to return to work. It is the first presidential executive order in 18 years since the clause on executive order was introduced in the Trucking Transport Business Act. The government's move triggered an intense gridlock as the leadership of the Cargo Truckers Solidarity ("CTS"), to which the strikers belong, reacted furiously to the measure and vowed to wage an all-out war with the government.
President Yoon said he would never give in to any illegalities and asked the CTS members to return to work immediately. Between Wednesday and Thursday, the documents ordering the return will be sent to truck owners. If they refuse the order without convincing reason, they may face suspension or cancelation of their licenses, prison time for up to three years or a penalty of up to 30 million Korean won. Currently, the order is targeting some 3,000 truckers transporting cement in bulk, which accounts for 0.5% of the total cargo transport. But if the situation continues, the order might be extended to other cargo vehicles such as those carrying petrol.
The logistics for various infrastructure industries related to cement, automobiles, and petroleum, among others, have been seriously paralyzed due to the transport strike, which has continued for six days as of Tuesday. The daily losses are estimated at 300 billion won and are accumulating while Korea's export-driven economy is struggling with declining exports for two consecutive months and snowballing trade deficit. The government has no choice but to respond firmly on legal grounds. There is also a sentiment within the government reportedly that they should no longer be swayed by the CTS requesting a year-round minimum profit guarantee again in just five months while taking cargo transport as a hostage. The government is taking a hard stance because the main group leading the strike are the truckers registered as individual businesses, those transporting cement and petrol in particular, who earn relatively better than the rest of the cargo lorry owners.
Still, some reasonably criticize that the government did not engage in a true working dialogue in advance with the strikers, as seen in the negotiation talks held one day before the strike, which faltered in just two hours. The executive order was issued after the two parties agreed to resume negotiations, leaving no exit for the CTS and likely aggravating the confrontation. Some may suspect that the government just wanted a pretext when they already had decided to take a hard line against the strike. Furthermore, there are possibilities that the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions may exploit the situation, inciting railway workers and Seoul subway workers to join the strike.
The CTS announced an all-out war with the government, with the leadership members shaving their hair in protest and applying for an injunction to nullify the order. However, people also seem critical of the strikers' move who vowed to "block all industries from operating" when the whole nation is suffering from a double whammy of high inflation and low growth. The strikers should leave their unreasonable demands behind and come to the negotiating table. The government should also make more efforts, while sticking faithfully to the rule of law, in engaging dialogue and persuasion rather than enforcing penalties.