Hyundai subcontracters plead for end to standoff

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Hyundai subcontracters plead for end to standoff

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An assembly line at one of Hyundai Motor’s subcontractors in Ulsan, stands idle last Saturday. By Song Bong-geun

ULSAN - Four grim-looking men in black suits stood in front of labor union members in the union office last week at Hyundai Motor’s production line in Buk District, Ulsan. The four men, who represent over 3,800 subcontractor companies providing auto parts to the country’s top automaker, visited the factory to plead with Hyundai Motor workers to resume their weekend shifts, which have been suspended for seven weeks as the result of a wage dispute.

“Those of you here still can make a living without weekend work duty. But for subcontractors like us, business survival hinges on whether weekend shifts resume,” said Lee Young-sub, the 72-year-old president of the subcontractor association.

The union demands that the automaker pay workers the same amount as when the overnight shift was in place and workers put in 14 hours on a single weekend shift.

The change in work schedule implemented last month calls for an eight-hour and a nine-hour weekend shift. The company insists on paying less because fewer hours are worked.

With Hyundai assembly lines silent on weekends, orders have been cut, and the automaker’s more than 3,800 subcontractors are feeling the heat.

The automaker estimates the weekend work boycott by the labor union reduced production by 48,000 vehicles and incurred 950 billion won ($847.4 million) in losses.

What has been the most problematic aspect of the ongoing dispute for the subcontractors is that they bear about 85 percent, or 807.5 billion won, of that amount. The pain is most acute for those who have Hyundai Motor as their only client.

The number of workers at subcontractor firms for the auto giant is estimated at 300,000.

A 43-year-old employee surnamed Lee who works at Duckyang Industry, a car interior provider for Hyundai, told the JoongAng Ilbo his wage was cut by 450,000 won last month as his company did not run its assembly line on weekends.

Industry observers call on both the labor union and Hyundai Motor to reach a compromise.

“Adjusting weekend payment is one of the issues dealt with by labor and management to improve working conditions,” said Noh Gwang-pyo, director at the Korea Labor and Society Institute. “But doing so could bring unintended consequences for subcontractors such as serious reduction in wage and job instability due to decreased productions. Both parties should bear in mind social responsibility [for their influence in the industry].”



By Cha Sang-eun, Kang Jin-kyu [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]

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