After four idle years, 460 Ssangyong workers return

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After four idle years, 460 Ssangyong workers return

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Ssangyong Motor employees work yesterday on the third assembly line at the the Pyeongtaek plant in Gyeonggi. The automaker has started a night shift first time in four years. [NEWSIS]

PYEONGTAEK, Gyeonggi - After four years, Kim Byung-mo, 48, is back with Ssangyong Motor. He is one of 460 workers who were forced on “unpaid leave” after the automaker went through massive layoffs and court receivership in 2009.

“I never thought it would take four years [to get back with the company],” said Kim. “But when I heard the news, I was relieved.”

Kim has two children. To put the food on the table he worked at a small company as nonregular employee assembling auto parts.

He is on the painting II team at Ssangyong’s main plant in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi. Although his new job - checking paint-job quality - is quite different from his former job of managing knock-down logistics, Kim laws happy to be back.

“I thought I would have some problems adjusting to a new job, but workers around me help me a lot,” he said. “Compared to before, the work environment is cleaner and better for workers.”

Ssangyong agreed with its labor union in January to reinstate all unpaid leave workers. Since then the two sides negotiated changes embraced by those returning and finally agreed on details in late April, including adoption of a third assembly line night shift.

By that time, thanks to Ssangyong’s growing sales, the nation’s smallest automaker needed to produce more vehicles. Ssangyong sold 12,607 units worldwide in April, its best performance since December 2006.

Ssangyong started night-shift production yesterday with the reinstated workers after eight weeks of training for their new positions. Of the 460 reinstated workers, about 330 were assigned to the 9 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. assembly line shift at the Pyeongtaek plant, currently the company’s only night shift.

The assembly produces the Rexton W, Korando Sport and export-only models like Kyron and Actyon, and is one of the busiest lines at the Pyeongtaek plant, according to Kim Choon-sik, deputy general manager of the third line assembly team.

The line started in 1995, turning out the Istana commercial van. Originally, the line produced a maximum of 22 units per hour; today its capacity is 16.

Ssangyong expects the graveyard shift will boost the line’s monthly production from 4,000 units to 6,000.

But for now, the company is concentrating on assimilation of the reinstated workers.

“We are trying to arrange a get-together dinner to create unity,” said deputy general manger Kim. “We welcome reinstated workers and although they need time to become skilled at their jobs, they will do fine.”

Protecting reinstated workers is also important. Because most of them are coming back after four years, Ssangyong will run the production line “go-and-stop” to give workers adequate time to complete their tasks.

“Normal operation of production line starts next week,” said labor union leader Kim Kyu-han. “There was some hostility and conflict to getting these workers back on the job, but this kind of incident should not happen again in Korea.”


By Joo Kyung-don [kjoo@joongang.co.kr]

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