Time for Cho to come homeCho Nam-ho, chairman of Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction, remains abroad since he left the country on June 17, even as the shipbuilder is embattled with its worst-ever labor crisis. Kim Jin-suk, a former Hanjin employee and an executive member of the Busan chapter of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, has been staging a sit-in protest atop a crane at the company’s Yeongdo shipyard for nearly seven months, and buses and caravans across the nation are arriving on the scene to join the protest against labor injustice and layoffs. The unprecedented protests have been triggered by the last year’s restructuring plan to lay off 500 unionized workers at the Yeondgo shipyard. The company as well as Busan’s entire economy is at stake, yet the chief executive remains overseas.
Hanjin Heavy Industries employees and their families posted advertisements in newspapers pleading for Kim to end the crane-top protest and asking politicians and other activist groups not to get involved and leave the matter to management and labor. But the crisis has developed beyond control because the company’s chairman failed to exercise due responsibility and leadership.
Hanjin Heavy Industries last month struck a deal with the labor union and ended the six-month-long strike. It has since received orders to build four container ships. But the shipyard turned into a parking lot for the “Hope Buses” carrying supporters of Kim’s symbolic protest. The protesters are demanding job security for contractual workers. The labor scene has evolved into a battlefield for stronger workers’ rights. Opposition politicians are flocking to the scene in the hopes of winning points with the working class ahead of next year’s general and presidential elections. Some radical groups are using the momentum to highlight layoffs and discrimination against contractual workers.
Cho is largely to blame for the worsening crisis. The National Assembly’s Environment and Labor Committee had planned to summon Cho for a hearing in June. He should have answered the call and explained the management’s position as well as its plans to resolve the problem. But he left the country days before the first hearing on June 22.
Some are suspecting that Hanjin executives are planning to close the Yeongdo shipyard and move its manufacturing base to the Philippines, where it has another shipyard. About 1,400 employees and their families, affiliates and the Busan economy are in jeopardy. Cho must quickly return and resolve the matter once and for all.