Hyundai Heavy may be hit with labor walkout

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Hyundai Heavy may be hit with labor walkout

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Huawei’s Honor 6

Hyundai Heavy Industries, the world’s largest shipbuilder, has been recognized as an exemplary company in terms of labor-management relationships in Korea. It hasn’t suffered a strike in 19 years.

That exemplary record is on the verge of coming to an end as the company’s union started a vote yesterday to decide whether it should strike or not. The voting session will end on Friday. Approval from more than half of the 18,000 members is needed for a strike to be called.

Under the guidance of the National Labor Relations Commission, management and the union will have negotiations and adjust their proposals before tomorrow. But they haven’t been able to narrow their differences on wages and welfare issues over the last four months.

According to the company, the union wants the monthly wage to be increased by 132,013 won ($126), while management is offering a 37,000 won increase.

The union also wants to extend the retirement age to 60 without any conditions, while management is saying it can extend the retirement age to 60 under a peak wage system, in which wages decline in the final years of a worker’s time on the job.

In addition, the union wants a fixed bonus regardless of workers’ performances as well as a payment of 10 million won to employees if their children aren’t going to college. The management has countered with an offer to invest 3 billion won in a labor welfare fund and 2 billion won to build a resort area for the workers.

Hyundai Heavy Industries in the second quarter had its worst performance ever with an operating loss of 1.1 trillion won. Industry insiders said that if the union decided to lay down its tools, it would be a huge blow to the shipbuilder.

In order to prevent the worst, Hyundai Heavy Industries President Kwon Oh-gap, who was appointed last week, stood at the main gate of the company’s headquarters in Ulsan yesterday and delivered a letter to employees in order to persuade them that the company is trying its best.

“It’s a pity that the company couldn’t earn the trust of employees,” Kwon said in the letter. “Please give the company the opportunity and time to take its full responsibility.”

Also yesterday, the union of Korea’s largest automaker, Hyundai Motor, conducted a four-hour strike. Some 13,000 workers on the first shift in the Ulsan plant laid down their tools for two hours at 1:30 p.m. and 10,000 workers on the second shift didn’t work for two more hours.

Hyundai said that some workers in its Jeonju and Asan plants as well as its Namyang R&D Center also conducted a partial strike.

The union is planning to launch a four-hour strike (two hours each by two shifts) today and an eight-hour strike (four hours each by two shifts) tomorrow and Friday.

The union, which has more than 40,000 members, already conducted strikes on Aug. 22 and 28. Hyundai claims that the work stoppages prevented 32,400 vehicles from being produced on schedule.

The union and management had its 22nd meeting on Monday for wage negotiations but didn’t find common ground.


BY JOO KYUNG-DON [kjoo@joongang.co.kr]

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