SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - Thousands of South Korean truckers returned to work on Wednesday, with an export-crippling weeklong strike unraveling after the government threatened to withdraw tax breaks for drivers.
About 30,000 truck drivers had walked out, demanding higher fees from trucking and shipping companies.
The strike, which began last Thursday, disrupted freight and paralyzed the nation's seaports, and officials estimate export losses had reached US$530 million through Tuesday.
The Commerce, Industry and Energy Ministry said about 75 percent of some 1,850 cement truck drivers, who were leading the strike, had agreed to drop their demands and go back to work.
Container traffic was continuing to improve Wednesday, said Cho Taek-yeon, the ministry's deputy director.
The ministry only had figures for cement truckers, but those appeared to signal that the strike was winding down.
The government had set a midnight Tuesday deadline for the strikers.
It warned it would cancel tax benefits for those who ignored the order to end the walkout.
Trucking and shipping companies, which had also threatened action, terminated contracts for 66 union leaders at midnight, another ministry official said.
The strike is the second in three months to hit the transport sector.
Cement makers say they have been loosing at least 10 billion won (US$85 million) a day.
Other industries, from shipbuilders and steel makers to textile firms, have also reported growing losses.
Police reportedly sought the arrest of strike leaders overnight, but had been met by defiant union members, who blocked the entrances of the union's headquarters.
In another strike busting tactic, the government used military trucks to deliver some goods.
At the nation's busiest port, Busan, container traffic rebounded to around 70 percent of their daily average by late Tuesday.
They had fallen as low as one-third the daily average.
Another major port, Gwanyang, reported that container traffic had recovered to 84 percent of its daily average on Tuesday, from about 70 percent the day before.
In May, a weeklong strike by the Cargo Transportation Workers' Union paralyzed South Korea's two main ports, costing exporters more than US$450 million in losses.
That strike ended when the government agreed to cut truck drivers' income taxes, lower highway tolls and subsidize fuel. - AP