Negotiations yet to begin in South Korea taxi driver strike
July 20, 2006
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — No negotiations had begun between Worldcup Arirang Tourism Company Ltd. and its 270 drivers as of Tuesday afternoon, day four of a strike that left U.S. military bases in Area I and Area II without taxi service, according to the drivers’ union president.
“So far, we haven’t heard any single word of (that suggested) negotiating from the company,” Shim Woo-chang said Tuesday afternoon.
Tuesday morning, Arirang manager Kim Hong-yeon told Stars and Stripes he couldn’t talk because he was meeting with union officials. Later attempts to contact him were unsuccessful.
Meanwhile, Army and Air Force Exchange Service officials on Tuesday released a short statement saying they expected taxi service to resume “as quickly as possible,” according to AAFES spokesman Air Force Master Sgt. Donovan Potter.
In a separate statement, Area II AAFES general manager Betty O’Brien said AAFES was exploring other options.
“AAFES is contacting other taxi companies to determine if they would be interested in providing taxi service in Area II,” O’Brien said in the statement.
The union president said Tuesday afternoon he was unsure how long the strike would last or whether the drivers’ jobs were at risk.
Shim said Tuesday his union should have done a better job preparing its customers for the strike, to help them plan alternatives and to gain some sympathy for their cause.
But he said frustrations with salary negotiations “drove us to the edge of a cliff.”
The drivers are asking for a 100,000-won monthly raise to their 400,000-won base salary, a $105 increase to $420.
The drivers also receive several regular bonuses, Shim said, a common practice in Korean companies. Those bonuses bring up the drivers’ monthly incomes — without tips from customers — to about $1,259 to $1,363 a month, he said. The drivers keep all of their tips.
Shim said drivers last saw an increase in their base pay five years ago.
Twice in the past 15 months, Arirang has raised its taxi fare rates. Most recently, in May, the base rate went from $1.80 to $2.30, a 28 percent jump. The company also began charging extra for rides between midnight and 4 a.m. Taxi officials cited rising fuel prices as the cause for both changes.
In recent weeks, union and company officials worked with a South Korean Labor Ministry arbitrator to reach a settlement. The government official recommended a 50,000-won raise, or $52 raise. That was rejected, drivers have said.
On Tuesday, AAFES released a statement that read in part: “AAFES is doing its best to resolve this matter to avoid further interruption in service to its customers and have been assured by Worldcup … that they will resume service as quickly as possible. … We are encouraged by the communication we have received, that service will return very soon and apologize for the inconvenience this has caused.”
On-base bus service was increased in Area I over the weekend and will increase in Area II if needed, AAFES officials said.