(ATTN: ADDS union's criticism of gov't during ILO meeting in last 2 paras)
SEOUL, Dec. 6 (Yonhap) -- Thousands of unionized workers staged protest rallies across the country on Tuesday to denounce the government's return-to-work order issued to break up the ongoing strike by cargo truckers.
Members of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) simultaneously launched the rallies at 15 locations nationwide to support the truckers' general strike that entered its 13th day Tuesday.
About 3,500 KCTU members, including striking truckers and those affiliated with construction, service or other trade unions, joined the rally held at an inland container depot in Uiwang, about 25 kilometers south of Seoul, a major logistics hub for the greater Seoul area.
Another thousand gathered at a rally near Hyundai Steel's factory in Dangjin, 80 kilometers southwest of Seoul while another rally in the southern port city of Busan drew an estimated 1,000 workers. The other locations included Incheon, Gwangju and Jeju Island.
The nationwide walkout by cargo truckers has wrought supply disruptions of goods worth about 3.5 trillion won (US$2.69 billion) so far in five key sectors, including steel, cement and automobiles.
Truckers have been demanding that the government extend temporary rules guaranteeing minimum freight rates, set to expire this year.
Last week, the government invoked an executive order forcing striking workers in the hard-hit cement industry to return to work, and is currently mulling an additional executive order for truckers in other sectors.
KCTU chief Yang Kyung-soo accused the government of distorting and slandering truckers' "reasonable" demand for a safe work environment.
"We will fight the government's oppressive response to the strike with even stronger solidarity and continue to fight on sternly," Yang said during the rally in Uiwang.
Participating members occupied four of the eight lanes in front of the inland container depot and held up banner reading "break the Yoon Suk-yeol government's labor oppression" or other messages.
About 1,500 police personnel were deployed for the rally in Uiwang and police have warned stern action against any violence or other illegal act connected to the rallies.
The KCTU also raised the issue during an Asia-Pacific regional meeting of the International Labor Organization under way in Singapore, claiming the government is "suppressing" truck drivers while denying their basic labor rights.
"The government is blackmailing striking laborers by warning of a cut in oil subsidies, the revocation of business licenses and criminal punishment," union official Yoon Taek-geun said in his keynote address, calling for special attention of the organization on the matter.
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