Hyundai, union clash anew over night shifts

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Hyundai, union clash anew over night shifts

The discussion over eliminating night shifts at Hyundai Motor took a new turn as its union started demanding the automaker eliminate graveyard shifts at its assembly plants this year instead of next year, as originally planned.

Hyundai countered that the request by the union could delay even further the planned abandoning of night shifts.

“The fact that night shifts will continue this year under the original plan is against our desire to improve the health and quality of life for the workers,” Hyundai’s union said in a statement last Thursday. “Our goal is to introduce two eight-hour day shifts in line with 40 working hours a week.”

Under the original plan announced by the company last November, Hyundai will get rid of the graveyard shift beginning in 2013 while maintaining the volume of production and total wages paid.

To prepare for the change, Hyundai said it would invest 300 billion won ($266.9 million) in facilities this year.

Under the plan, Hyundai also said it would adjust working hours, increase production during the week and make shifting of production between factories more flexible.

Hyundai said the union’s new request was inappropriate.

“We’ve been discussing the issue since 2005,” said Han Sung-ho, an external relations manager at Hyundai. “Recently, the union asked for a complete review of the agreement and we are perplexed.”

The union said, however, that the plan was a disguised attempt to increase labor productivity and make retrenchment easier.

“Under the original plan suggested by the company on Oct. 28, 2011, it stated that ‘there is a possibility that due to increasing production of hybrid cars and electric vehicles, the company will have problems with overcapacity and excess workforce. The current state of employment will likely be difficult’,” the union said, calling that a threat to workers’ jobs.

The union also demands that the company install additional assembly lines to produce 300,000 cars and hire an additional 3,500 people.

Hyundai has been running night shifts for 40 years. The day shift starts at 8 a.m. and ends at 6:50 p.m. while the night shift begins at 9 p.m. and finishes at 8 a.m. If the night shift is eliminated, morning shifts would start at 6:30 a.m. and continue through 3:10 p.m., while afternoon shifts would begin at 3:10 p.m. and end at 12:50 a.m.

Hyundai’s affiliate Kia Motors, GM Korea and Renault Samsung Motors are also running night shifts. The country’s auto industry has chronic problems related to overwork. Korean automakers are the only ones in the developed world that still have graveyard shifts.

Meanwhile, Hyundai’s sister company Kia Motors said it would experiment with two day shifts from March 26 to April 6 in its Sohari, Gwangju and Hwaseong plants. Kia will be the first to introduce two day shifts. Hyundai’s management and union intend to analyze the change.


By Limb Jae-un [jbiz91@joongang.co.kr]

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