The Korea Herald


Seoul bus drivers go on general strike, cause morning rush hour delays

By Yonhap

Published : March 28, 2024 - 09:36

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A bus station in Seoul's Jongno district remains deserted on the first day of a strike by unionized bus drivers on Thursday. (Yonhap) A bus station in Seoul's Jongno district remains deserted on the first day of a strike by unionized bus drivers on Thursday. (Yonhap)

Unionized bus drivers in Seoul went on a general strike Thursday to demand a wage hike, halting the operation of nearly 98 percent of buses running across the capital and causing delays for commuters in the morning rush hour.

In their last-minute wage negotiations conducted from Wednesday till early Thursday morning, the Seoul Bus Labor Union and their employers failed to strike a deal over the union's demand for a 12.7 percent increase in hourly wages.

The union, which has about 18,000 members at 65 companies, responded by pushing ahead with its threatened strike, affecting 7,210 intracity buses, which represent 97.6 percent of the capital's bus services.

The general strike, the first since 2012, caused massive passenger inconveniences in the morning rush hour, delaying travel time for commuters and leaving uninformed passengers taken aback.

The city government increased subway operations for the morning and evening rush hours to minimize passenger inconveniences and extended the subway operating hours from 1 a.m. to 2 a.m.

The city's 25 district governments provided emergency free shuttle services to move passengers speedily to subway stations.

The bus union has been demanding a 12.7 percent hike in hourly wages, citing the outflow of its workforce to nearby regions, but the employers' side dismissed it as "excessive," particularly in consideration of the inflation rate of the past five years.

The two sides planned to continue their negotiations for a breakthrough on the back of the ongoing strike.

At the peak of the morning rush hour at 8 a.m., a usually bustling bus station near Nakseongdae Station in southern Seoul remained deserted, with the multiple bus routes passing through the station suspended.

An 18-year-old passenger, surnamed Choi, said he departed from home 15 minutes earlier than usual to walk to his school due to the strike.

"The rainy weather makes it even more uncomfortable," he said.

Platforms at Wangsimni Station, a major transfer point where three subway lines intersect, were unusually crowded with commuters during the morning rush hour.

"I was surprised to see there wasn't even a small space to lay my feet," said a 66-year-old commuter, surnamed Lee, after boarding a subway train at Cheongnyangni Station in eastern Seoul.

"I heard people pushing and being pushed by each other and shouting," he said.

The strike also caught uninformed commuters off guard and many urgently went to find alternative transportation after hearing about the collective action. (Yonhap)