Largest verdict for strike damagesULSAN, South Gyeongsang - An Ulsan court ordered unionized workers at Hyundai Motor to pay 9 billion won ($8.47 million) in damages for an unlawful occupation of Korea’s largest automobile company, the largest compensation award ever for an illegal labor activity.
The Ulsan District Court ruled Thursday that 27 members of a union representing temporary workers on Hyundai’s assembly lines were accountable for disrupting the production of 28,982 vehicles and 326.9 billion won in losses.
In 2010, the workers occupied a Hyundai factory in Ulsan for 25 days to demand temporary workers be put on staff.
At the time, 227 workers were charged with illegally occupying the factory.
Along with the criminal charges, Hyundai Motor filed multiple civil suits seeking compensation amounting to 22.9 billion won in total.
The union cried foul over the civil suits.
“The company’s decision to seek damages against union members risks silencing workers’ voices,” said a member of the temporary workers’ union who requested anonymity.
In addition to criminal trials, more and more conglomerates are filing compensation suits against workers who strike or occupy premises. Legal professionals note that in the criminal cases, only a handful of union leaders tend to be held accountable. Civil suits claiming damages can be a more effective deterrent to strikes, they say.
“Compensation rulings will likely be in favor of the companies because it’s easy to verify the degree of damage,” said Choi Gi-young, an attorney at Sehan Law Firm.
Last month, a district court ordered members of a Ssangyong Motor union to pay compensation to the carmaker and police for damages caused during a prolonged strike in 2009.
After layoffs by the manufacturer in 2009, hundreds of workers staged a three-month strike at its factory in Pyeongtaek, leading to a violent clash between the striking workers and police officers. At the time, the country’s smallest carmaker laid off 2,646 out of 7,179 workers due to poor sales.
Ssangyong’s management and the police lodged separate complaints against the union seeking combined damages of 16.46 billion won.
The court ruled that the accused workers had to pay 3.3 billion won to the company and 1.3 billion won to police.
“As we examined the scale of damages, the amount is estimated to be 5.5 billion won,” the court said.
“But we took into account the motivation of the workers and the company’s poor management,” the court continued.
“So the court charges only 60 percent of what the company and police sought.”
Some legal professionals expressed concerns over the trend.
“Courts need to take a balanced approach and take into consideration what caused the union to go on strike or occupy company premises in the first place,” said lawyer Yang Ji-yeol of Gayul Law Firm.
BY JUNG YONG-SOO [email@example.com]