SEJONG, The government on Monday pressed unionized bus drivers across the country to call off this week’s general strike as it offered a set of incentives to bus companies.

Bus companies “should not stop providing bus services,” Hong Nam-ki, the minister of economy and finance, said during a meeting with leaders of the Federation of Korean Trade Unions and the Korea Automobile & Transport Workers’ Federation.

The request came days after unionized bus drivers across the country voted overwhelmingly in favor of a general strike. They’re seeking pay hikes and manpower increases in time for the implementation of a mandatory 52-hour workweek in the bus industry this summer.

The government offered, among other things, to support local authorities in expanding infrastructure related to bus services.

The bus drivers have threatened to walk out on Wednesday, complaining that the 52-hour workweek, set to be enforced at bus companies with more than 300 employees from July, will lead to a significant reduction in their earnings.

South Korea last year introduced the 52-hour workweek rule as part of efforts to stimulate consumption and generate more economic growth. The shorter workweek went into effect in July 2018 for companies with more than 300 employees, but the bus industry was given a one-year grace period.

Beginning in July, the maximum weekly work hours of bus company workers will be reduced from the current 68 to 52, forcing bus drivers to suffer an income reduction of over 1 million won (US$850) per month due to a cut in overtime pay.

The embattled bus companies have asked local and central governments for fare increases and other financial support, saying they cannot afford the rise in labor costs under the 52-hour workweek system.

The government said Sunday that increasing bus fares may offer a “realistic” solution to an anticipated rise in labor costs.

Source: Yonhap news Agency