South Korea's military deployed soldiers and trucks to the world's third-busiest port yesterday to do the work of truckers who have stayed off the job for five days in a strike to demand higher pay.
Soldiers driving 10 heavy-lifting trucks arrived yesterday at the Busan port, Defense Ministry spokesman Major Ha Joo-hyon said.
The Yonhap news agency said the military planned to send a total of 259 trucks of varying sizes, and that the number of trains to the port was increased.
Prime Minister Goh Kun said the strike by 700 truckers "was seriously damaging the economy" and warned Monday that he would send police to end the strike if it is not resolved soon.
The port of Busan handles 80 percent of all container traffic for South Korea, the world's 11th largest economy.
"We also fear that the strike may seriously hurt the international image of the Busan port, which transfers a lot of containers carried by international shipping companies," Goh said in a statement.
"The people will understand why the government will have to send in law-enforcement forces," he said.
Government officials said the strike is illegal because it was preventing the port from operating.
Some strikes, including those that block a business operation, are illegal in South Korea, but the government typically tries to negotiate an end to them to avoid unrest.
Goh said the government will continue to mediate talks, but that it cannot wait long.
About 6,000 police were also placed on standby.
President Roh Moo-hyun, who is on a trip to the US, called Goh late Monday and told him to find ways to minimize the impact of the strike, Yonhap reported.
The agency also quoted a statement by the country's five main business associations as saying "a disruption of exports could throw the economy as a whole into an irrecoverable state."
Truck drivers voted Monday to continue the strike at Busan, where operations were running at a quarter capacity.
The Korean Cargo Workers Federation and transportation companies so far have failed to resolve the dispute over drivers' demands higher pay and lower fuel taxes.
The truckers' union has not publicly announced its demands. Media reports say drivers want a 21 percent increase in fees while companies are offering only 19 percent.
The government and the union were scheduled to resume negotiations yesterday.
Samsung Electronics Co, the biggest maker of computer-memory chips in the world, said it stands to lose roughly 100 billion won (US$83 million) in revenue a day while operations at the Busan port remain disrupted.
Another group of truckers ended a weeklong strike last Friday in the industrial city of Pohang after transportation companies there agreed to raise their fees. That strike caused delivery problems for major steel makers, including Pohang-based Posco, one of the world's largest steel mills.