Angry South Korean taxi drivers strike against car-sharing service

SEOUL (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of South Korean taxi driver walked off the job across the country on Thursday and held a mass demonstration in downtown Seoul to protest against a carpooling service which they say will destroy their jobs.

Taxi drivers take part in a protest against a carpool service application launched by Kakao Corp in Seoul, South Korea, December 20, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

The demonstration came days after the death of a taxi driver who set himself on fire in protest at plans to introduce car-pooling service Kakao Mobility, a unit of the mobile messenger operator Kakao Corp.

“If the service is running, my income will shrink by half. I fall into poverty,” said the driver, Yoon Woo-seok, 62, at the rally in front of the National Assembly.

Drivers wearing black headbands and ribbons to mourn their colleague sang “the battle against the illegal car”.

The croods postponed the official launch of the service after the suicide.

“We will have further consultation with the sector, the parliament and the government,” the company said.

South Korea has one of the world’s highest smartphone penetration, but app-based car-hailing services, such as the US. on the basis of Uber [UBER.UL] have not been met, partly due to strong unions and tight regulation in Asia is the fourth largest economy.

The protests pose a challenge to the labour-friendly government, which has also committed for the promotion of new industries, cut dependence on large conglomerates, such as Hyundai and Samsung.

According to a survey in October by the pollster Realmeter, more than 50 percent of the support of the public to carpool.

The taxi strike stranded commuters and disrupted traffic, with taxis, temporarily blocking a road leading to a motorway in the centre of Daejeon, in accordance with the pictures and messages in the media.

Seoul taxi operation percentage has dropped to 50 percent in comparison with same day last week, a transport ministry official told Reuters.

Taxi drivers say that they already suffer low wages and long hours.

“My whole family is scraping a living on my small income,” said the other driver, Lee Nam-soo, 67.

He said that he earned with 80,000 won ($70) to 90,000 won a day.

“There is no way I can survive if the Croods is working.”

Slideshow (8 Images)

Taxi associations urged parliament to put a ban on carpooling, while calling for action on what they say they are illegal car-sharing services.

The transport law a ban on the use of personal vehicles for commercial purposes, but can carpool services of the drivers with the riders who are in the same direction during the “commute” hours. Commuting times are not in the law, which could cause confusion.

The ruling party has created a task force to try to resolve the dispute.

Reporting by Heekyong Yang, additional reporting by Hyunjoo Jin and Ju-min Park; Editing by Nick Macfie

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