Both sides are at faultUnion workers at Hyundai Motor, the country’s largest automaker, voted to go on strike. The news of a 12-hour walkout yesterday, though not illegal, is exasperating considering we have heard the same story for the past 25 years except for a short hiatus between 2009 and 2011. Hyundai Motor is a Korean household name along with Samsung Electronics, and the company has a duty to live up to its global recognition, as do its employees.
Labor unions should not pursue personal interests, but should focus on improving common interests and the rights of other workers to draw broader support. Hyundai Motor union members are among the highest paid workers in the country. Their annual demand for wage hikes, regardless of declining productivity, has led to the impression that they are a selfish, elite labor group.
The labor union threatened to walkout this week because its members want their base salary to be revised as part of annual collective bargaining. But the union and management agreed earlier that they would wait for a court decision. The union last year filed a suit against management demanding that regular bonuses be included in base salary in accordance with a ruling by the Supreme Court. The first court review on whether Hyundai Motor employees are subject to base salary revision under the Supreme Court order is due in January. There is no reason for the union to strike over the issue at this stage.
The management of Hyundai Motor’s handling of the issue also raises questions over whether it is fit to run an international company. To produce one Hyundai Motor car, Korean assembly line workers on average spend 27.8 hours compared with 14.8 hours at their American counterparts.
This is because Hyundai has been trying to save labor costs by keeping base salary low and paying employees mostly through overtime or other forms of allowances for their hourly work. It also has been condoning illegal union activities.
Both the management and labor union of Hyundai Motor must live up to their responsibilities by demonstrating commitment to their workplace and society.
JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 28, Page 30