Buying fuel to keep working or find another way of living? That is the question many truckers around the world are asking themselves. With a global energy crunch (from moving into “green energy” faster than the infrastructure was ready for, in my opinion) causing refined petroleum products, like diesel, to be in short supply, prices have skyrocketed around the globe. No, it’s not just an American problem.
Over in South Korea, it has gotten to the point where trucker unions are striking to keep a minimum wage bill going. Without it, protesters say they will not be able to afford basic necessities – like food – if they fuel up their trucks. Diesel fuel now costs Korean truckers an additional 3 million won per month (about $2,390). It now absorbs most of the typical truck driver’s monthly wage of around 3.5 million won.
“Due to skyrocketing fuel prices and the government not acting enough to protect our livelihood, our frustration is only growing and growing,”Kim Jae-kwang, a senior Cargo Truckers Solidarity Union official
The newly elected government is not buying the strike threat
This situation had caused tensions between new South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeul and the leadership of the Cargo Truckers Solidarity Union (CTSU), a part of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU). CTSU is known to be more outspoken and defiant than the other trade groups. On June 7, CTSU began a strike with 7,200 members refusing to work. That accounts for about 30% of the union’s members.
So far, government officials are blowing off the strike. Transportation ministers say that the number of strikers is only 6% of the 420,000 drivers that are believed to be unionized and they can be worked around. Government-owned delivery trucks could be used to cover the strikers’ missing capacity. If necessary, military assets could also be brought online for use.
Effects are being felt by steel producers and consumers
The strike seems to be putting the most pressure on the steel industry. Steel producer POSCO has said that its deliveries are behind by 35,000 metric tonnes per day so far. With the common Korean 40-foot dry van cargo weight limit of 23 metric tons , that’s about 1,500 loads per day. And we are now on the third day of strikes, as of June 9, so the shortages are starting to show.
There’s a South Korean car manufacturer we all have heard of sounding off on the shortages. Kia Motors, at its Gwangju plant, Kia Motors was forced to use newly minted cars to make pickups and deliveries. Kia’s parent company Hyundai declined to comment when Reuters pressed it about the situation.
Exports are taking a hit as shipments are not arriving at the ports on time
“There’s only a minimal amount of cargo getting into ports right now. Until yesterday, the situation may have appeared okay because some pre-arranged cargoes were being delivered, but the reality now is that it is very difficult.” – Korea Shipping Council officials responding to Reuters
The Port of Busan is the seventh-largest seaport in the world. It helps drive South Korea’s economy, which is the world’s fourth-largest. Even if the government won’t admit that there is a problem, the Busan Port Authority has been sounding the alarm due to container capacity.
Container occupancy rates have reached 76.3%, an increase from 73.9% on Tuesday, June 7. An emergency response team has been assembled and has activated emergency plans for increased outside holding areas.
President Yoon is having a rough first few weeks in office
Yonhap News reported the police have made more than two dozen arrests already, including members of the truckers union who were blocking the gates of the Hite Jinro brewery in Icheon, southeast of Seoul. President Yoon, in power for just over a month, warned strikers on Thursday not to use violence and said the government will resolve the situation through dialogue.