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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Dec. 1)

Editorials from Korean dailies 07:01 December 01, 2022

Start sincere dialogue
: Unionists on strike ordered to return to work

The Yoon Suk-yeol administration issued an executive order, Tuesday, forcing striking truck drivers to return to work. The order was made for the first time since it was introduced in 2004 under the 2003-2008 Roh Moo-hyun administration. As an initial step, the government has decided to apply the order to some 2,500 cement truckers to prevent a possible shutdown of industrial sites across the nation.

The Cargo Truckers Solidarity (CTS) has been on strike since Nov. 24, affecting more than 500 construction sites as of Tuesday when up to 95 percent of cement deliveries were halted. President Yoon Suk-yeol vowed to take all possible measures to deal sternly with the strike by unionized workers. He said the executive order was inevitable to prevent the strike from inflicting more damage to the economy and people's livelihoods.

"I will firmly establish the principle of the rule of law in dealing with labor issues and will never tolerate illegalities," Yoon said during a Cabinet meeting, Tuesday. The striking drivers may be subject to administrative and criminal punishments should they continue refusing to return to work after receiving the written order.

In a sense, the government's hardline stance has been widely anticipated given the huge potential losses at related industrial sites. Furthermore, the staunch unionized workers have been a target of public criticism for their unyielding strikes at the cost of the national economy and people's livelihoods.

Yet, the Yoon administration cannot deflect criticism, either, for its apparent lack of sincere efforts to find a solution to the labor dispute. Representatives from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport and the CTS sat down for negotiations for the first time on Nov. 28. Yet the talks ended in failure, as the government officials maintained a lukewarm stance.

Although the unionists expressed their intention to make concessions from their original stance, the ministry officials refused to provide specifics by saying they had no authority. Only one day after the negotiations fell through, the government issued the executive order. This move came ahead of a planned strike by railroad workers expected to start Dec. 2, following a sit-in by subway workers beginning Wednesday.

The government should double down on settling the dispute through dialogue. Sticking to an all-or-nothing strategy will not help find a solution. Given the worsening economic climate, more efforts should be taken to extract a mutually acceptable agreement. The Yoon administration should also pay heed to the allegation that the executive order can infringe upon the rules of the International Labor Organization and the nation's Constitution as well.

The unionists, for their part, should stop engaging in unlawful activities against nonparticipants. For instance, metal beads were shot at a truck in Busan on Nov. 26, which is a grave criminal act that cannot be forgiven. Stern steps should be taken against the perpetrators.

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