South Korea's prime minister urged unionised truckers on Tuesday to scrap plans to go on strike this week to spare the economy what he called paralysis and irreversible damage, fuelling fears for the country's post-pandemic recovery.
Major trucking unions have threatened to begin a nationwide strike on Thursday after talks to reach a compromise with the government over pay and fuel price subsidies failed.
In June, an eight-day strike by truckers delayed cargo shipments for industries from autos to semiconductors in Asia's fourth-largest economy, costing more than US$1.2 billion (about RM5.5 billion) in lost output and unmet deliveries while posing new risks to a strained global supply chain.
"The unions' refusal to transport would cause irreparable damage to the national economy beyond logistics paralysis," Prime Minister Han Duck-soo told a news conference.
"In the worst case, it could lead to the collapse of the logistics system, cutting our industries' external credibility and threatening global competitiveness."
The truckers, largely self-employed, want an extension of subsidies to guarantee minimum earnings which the government extended during the Covid-19 pandemic beyond December.
During talks this week, the government and ruling party offered a three-year extension of the subsidies, but refused to accept the unions' request to expand these benefits to truckers in better-paying areas, such as those carrying fuel and steel.
The Cargo Truckers Solidarity Union, which is leading the strike, has refused the government's proposal. Union chief Lee Bong-ju told reporters that truckers supplying fuel from the four major refineries would also join the strike, potentially cutting off supplies nationwide.
Companies including Hyundai Motor and steelmaker Posco were forced to cut output after workers joined the nationwide strike in June.