Bus Drivers in Seoul Strike Over Wages

Bus Drivers in Seoul Strike Over Wages

Bus drivers in South Korea’s capital launched their first strike in more than a decade, which halted almost all city buses Thursday morning, after wage negotiations with management failed to narrow gaps.

Commuters looked for alternatives after some 7,000 buses among 7,382 registered with the city were out of service due to the strike, the Seoul Metropolitan Government said. The city increased subway operations and provided free shuttle services, trying to minimize strains on public transportation systems.

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The Seoul bus labor union, which represents some 18,000 bus drivers in the city, said more than 88% of the members voted for the walkout. Wage negotiations between the labor group and management fell through early Thursday, with the workers seeking a 12.7% pay rise. Management said the demand was excessive and has offered 2.5%. Inflation averaged 3.6% in 2023.  

The work stoppage is already the longest in more than 12 years, with the previous labor action by Seoul bus drivers in 2012 lasting less than a few hours.  

“The walkout is prolonged as labor and management are finding it hard to narrow the gap,” said Baek Ga-in, a vice head of the union representing bus drivers, adding the two sides are continuing communications. 

The strike could add pressure on President Yoon Suk Yeol who’s been trying to end a walkout by doctors that started more than a month ago in protest of a government plan to boost the number of medical school students.

Read More: Thousands of Striking Doctors in South Korea Defy Government’s Return-to-Work Deadline

Yoon, a conservative, has found support among voters for taking a tough line in labor disputes. In 2022, his government ordered truck drivers to return to work after a two-week strike, resulting in a jump in his approval ratings.

Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon said about 90% of buses remained out of service about six hours into the walkout and apologized for the inconvenience to the public over the strike.

“Any act threatening the public by taking citizens’ lives as hostage cannot be justified for any reason,” Oh said, adding he hopes for a prompt agreement between the two sides. 

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