South Korean taxi drivers joined a mass labor walkout Friday. Some ten thousand cab drivers are off the roads, just a week before South Korea starts hosting the World Cup soccer finals with Japan.
Officials in South Korea say that they don't expect transportation services to be disrupted for the World Cup, noting that less than ten percent of taxi drivers nationwide are on strike. However, labor officials say many of the striking drivers are in the cities of Inchon and Kwangju. Those cities are both World Cup venues.
The cab drivers join tens of thousands of others already on the picket lines, mostly metal and chemical industry workers, as well as hospital employees. Some strikers, however, reportedly have returned to their jobs after reaching new agreements with management.
The South Korean government is hoping that the strikes will fizzle before the first games of the World Cup finals on May 31. Finance Minister Jeon Yun-churl on Friday promised stern action if strikes are still going on when the finals begin. He says no illegal strikes by government workers will be tolerated during the World Cup. Mr. Jeon also says management should be open to reaching settlements with labor.
South Korea and Japan are the co-hosts of the World Cup. Tens of thousands of fans are expected to visit Korea in the next month to watch the soccer matches.
The country's second-largest and most militant labor group, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, organized the strikes. The group hopes the timing of the walkouts will pressure government and management to agree to higher wages and shorter workweeks.
Mo Yoon Young is a spokesman for the trade confederation. Mr. Mo said, "The goals of these strikes are very different for all the different unions that are going on strike. They have different kinds of demands. In general, it is for improvement in working conditions and wages. But they do share some common demands, such as an end to the pressure on trade union activities, the issues of working-hour reductions and the issues of new precarious workers employment which has become quite prevalent in Korea."
Strike leaders insist they are not looking to mar the country's image by interfering with the World Cup. They say they have no intention of continuing the protests past May 31 when the finals open in Seoul.