[EDITORIALS]Hyundai strike must endThe government has decided to take the hard-line position of invoking emergency binding arbitration in the Hyundai Motor strike. The measure is used when there is a grave threat to the national economy or public interest. The Hyundai dispute has entered dangerous territory, and it is a sad testimony to the country’s labor relations that such a grave threat has come to affect a leading business so deeply.
More than a month of rotating strikes and then a full walkout has resulted in 1.3 trillion won ($1.1 billion) in delayed production and the suspension of operations at overseas plants that have been unable to receive parts. A production delay does not necessarily translate into losses, but there is no question about the damage it has done and will do to the company. That damage is certain to affect smaller subcontractors and parts suppliers as well.
Hyundai Motor has been involved in labor disputes every year since 1998. Negotiations have taken as long as five months, and the union’s demands in four of those years have been political in nature, with calls for labor law amendments. Hyundai Motor is a high-wage workplace. It has been battling management with the backing of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, calling for the five-day workweek and participation in management. It has all the undesirable elements of a giant labor union.
The strike also raises concern for Korea’s deteriorating credibility among international investors. The automobile industry is one of the most competitive in the world. None of the “Big Three” U.S. automakers has had a labor dispute in the past five years, and Japan’s Toyota has not had a strike in half a century.
Automobile production is a key industry. There is enough competition without being distracted by labor conflict. We have to ask what the union is seeking by risking so much. The union must set an example as the representative of a leading Korean business by showing the maturity to put this trouble behind. If it does not, binding arbitration must be used to teach the union a lesson.
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