[EDITORIALS]Hyundai’s problem is ours

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[EDITORIALS]Hyundai’s problem is ours

The labor union of Hyundai Motor Group, the most prominent hard-line labor union, was recently embroiled in a bribery scandal. Senior labor union members now face charges of receiving bribes. Now the labor union is expected to hold an election to select new union leaders far earlier than scheduled. But the latest development is hardly uncommon. Hyundai Motor’s labor union leaders were forced to resign in 2000 after a similar bribery scandal, and several leaders were accused of receiving bribes in exchange for offering preference to some job applicants during the screening process. A series of mishaps like these even prompted the labor union to establish ethical codes for its leaders last year.
This year, the company’s labor union caused damage of more than 1.5 trillion won ($1.6 billion) through its strike of 33 days. The union leaders even had the nerve to ask for a 9.1-percent wage raise while the company experienced hardship, with Hyundai Motor top executives summoned to local prosecutors for raising slush funds. No wonder many people are now saying the labor union will never get a grip unless the company itself collapses.
The Hyundai Motor labor union has participated in its umbrella union’s strikes 11 times so far this year. Most of the strikes were for political motives that have little to do with union members’ welfare, such as opposition to the U.S.-Korea free trade agreement and new legislation for contract workers.
The year 2006 was a tough time for Hyundai Motor. A stronger won against the U.S. dollar, rising production costs and wages and a slowdown in the global auto market have all eroded the company’s profits. The firm’s estimated operating profit for this year is 1.3 trillion won, continuing its downward spiral since 2003. More than anything else, the stronger won against the Japanese yen even made Hyundai cars more expensive than Japanese cars in some countries. Meanwhile, Toyota, which has experienced no labor strikes for the past 56 years, is posting a record profit this year and is expected to become the world’s leading carmaker.
Hyundai Motor’s problem is translated into a problem for our national economy. And the problem in the Hyundai Motor labor union is the problem of Korea’s labor unions in general. The company should stop surrendering to whatever the labor union asks for but instead stand firm against the unreasonable demands of the union. Korea’s economy has no future unless both the Hyundai Motor management and labor union fundamentally change their respective ways of thinking.
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