Court rules for worker in case against Hyundai

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Court rules for worker in case against Hyundai

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대법원이 23일 현대자동차 사내하청업체 근로자에 대해 승소 판결을 내렸다. 판결을 듣고 나온 하청업체 관계자들이 대법원 현관에서 환호하고 있다. [강정현 기자]

The Supreme Court confirmed its initial verdict yesterday and ruled again in favor of Choe Byeong-seung, 36, who had been an irregular worker of an in-house subcontractor of Hyundai Motor.

Choe filed a lawsuit against Hyundai Motor in August 2006 after being “unfairly” fired after requesting the company make him a regular worker upon the Ministry of Employment and Labor’s decision to categorize workers of Hyundai Motor’s in-house subcontractors as “illegal dispatched workers” in 2004.

The Supreme Court said during its initial verdict in 2010 that despite Choe working under the subcontractor on paper, he was working on jobs given and directed by Hyundai Motor, therefore, Hyundai should be responsible as his employer.

The Supreme Court said again yesterday, “We judged that Choe was a worker who had been directed and managed by Hyundai Motor despite being contracted with a subcontractor.” It also said, “Moreover, as Choe had been working as an irregular worker of the subcontractor for more than two years for Hyundai Motor, Choe should have been made a direct employee of Hyundai Motor and no longer a dispatched worker by the subcontractor.”

Dispatched work refers to a situation in which a worker is hired by a subcontractor but is dispatched to work for another company. Workers employed in this manner are irregular workers. Moreover, dispatch employment allows the actual company for whom the workers produce to avoid responsibility for their wages and working conditions.

The country’s labor law concerning dispatched work allows dispatched workers to be directly employed by the company if they have worked there for more than two years.

The whole legal dispute between Hyundai Motor and Choe began in 2006, when he filed a compensation suit against Hyundai Motor’s head of the Central Labor Relations Committee upon getting fired for requesting to be hired as a regular worker of the company in 2005. Choe had been working as an irregular worker of a subcontractor at Hyundai Motor’s factory in Ulsan from March 2002 to February 2005.

However, Hyundai Motor argued that it is not its responsibility, as Choe belongs to the in-house subcontracting company.

Such behavior was criticized by labor unions insisting that it’s an illegal form of dispatch work.

Despite the criticism, Hyundai Motor had been in an advantageous position, winning both the first and second trials. However, the tables were turned when the Supreme Court ruled in July 2010 in favor of Choe and sent the case back to the High Court.

After seven months, the High Court decided in Choe’s favor, and Hyundai Motor made an appeal objecting to the decision.

Upon the Supreme Court’s final decision to dismiss Hyundai Motor’s appeal yesterday, the company announced that it “respects the Supreme Court’s ruling” and added it will “take appropriate steps after carefully analyzing the ruling when it gets forwarded.” It did not specify what steps it would take.

When the Supreme Court rejected Hyundai Motor’s request to delay the trial last Wednesday, the company anticipated the ruling would turn out negative. It voiced concerns that it will inevitably see a series of other irregular workers asking to be made regular workers of the company, which will put the company under financial strain.

Despite such concerns, an official from Hyundai Motor said, “The ruling only applies to Choe and not to the others. Moreover, unfair labor practices that were claimed by Choe have been improved in the sites.”

Analysts anticipated that “despite Hyundai Motor saying it respects the court’s ruling, it is impossible to turn all of its 8,000 irregular workers of subcontractors, which make up 20 percent of the total employees, into regular workers for the company.”

According to the Ministry of Employment and Labor’s report on the utilization of subcontractors by companies with more than 300 employers in 2010, 41.2 percent of the 1,939 respondents said they were using subcontractors who in turn use irregular workers. According to the survey, 24.6 percent of the workers were irregular workers. Shipbuilding companies were the ones that used the most subcontractors, accounting for 61.3 percent, followed by steel companies, with 43.7 percent.

Despite keeping a close eye on the court’s ruling, shipbuilding and steel companies drew a line from the automobile industry.

“As we differentiate the work with our regular workers and subcontracted workers, they hardly work together on the same jobs,” said an official from Hyundai Heavy Industries, who continued, “We believe we are irrelevant to the Supreme Court’s ruling.”

Posco also stressed that regular workers and temporary workers from subcontractors have different jobs in different locations and were managed differently. An official from the Korea Employers Federation said, “If all these irregular workers were made regular, it will establish a vicious circle starting with production decrease followed by decrease in employment, decrease in consumption and decrease in investments upon economic downturn.”

The Federation of Korean Industries also said, “It is upsetting that the legal system of hiring workers through subcontractors be seen as an inappropriate form of using irregular workers through subcontractors,” and added, “The reality of industrial settings weren’t considered in the court’s ruling.”

Meanwhile, the country’s trade unions welcomed the Supreme Court’s ruling. The Federation of Korean Trade Unions said, “A door has opened to prohibit the malpractice of large manufacturing companies hiring irregular workers using subcontractors,” and added, “Hyundai Motor must rehire its current irregular workers of subcontractors directly as company workers.”


By Yim Seung-hye, Lee Ga-young [sharon@joongang.co.kr]

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