Hyundai Heavy workers plan to strike Thursday

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Hyundai Heavy workers plan to strike Thursday

The labor union of Hyundai Heavy Industries, the nation’s largest shipbuilder, has called a partial strike this week, its first since 1994.

The union said yesterday it will stage a rally tomorrow at the company’s branch office in Gye-dong, central Seoul. Workers at Ulsan in South Gyeongsang, where the company’s headquarters are located, will walk out from a scheduled one hour of extra work at 5 p.m. on Thursday.

The union did not say how many people will go to Seoul or specify a time for the rally.

“We will launch an intensive strike if the company doesn’t accept our demands,” said Chung Byung-mo, head of the union, in a briefing at the press center of the Ulsan City Government.

“The company and the union have had 50 rounds of negotiations in the past six months, but the company has been refusing to continue negotiations since it made a final offer on Nov. 5. In the meantime, the company has been trying to convince the public that it is really having a hard time by posting terrible second- and third-quarter performances.”

The union is demanding the company raise monthly base pay by 132,013 won ($123) and give a two and a half month bonus. The company offered a 37,000 won raise, a 5 million won bonus and to extend the retirement age from 58 to 60 next year.

The shipbuilder has had a poor year, posting an operating loss of 1.94 trillion won in the third quarter, nearly double the 1.1 trillion won loss from the second quarter. Hyundai’s accumulated operating loss for this year is more than 3.2 trillion won.

After negotiations failed, the union took a vote from Sept. 23 to Oct. 22 to decide whether it should go on strike and 97 percent of votes favored a walkout.

In late October, the labor union declared that it will go on a two-hour partial strike on Nov. 7 but temporarily postponed the plan after the company pointed out that it wasn’t legitimate for the union to hold such a long voting period, which was supposed to be held over a maximum of four days.

The union said on Wednesday its lawyers found no legal violations in the voting.

The union also warned the company to call off a decision to start a performance-based annual salary system, which would allow the company to pay bonuses by evaluating employees’ performances on a scale from one to five. Earlier, the same bonus was given to all workers. The company said Wednesday that the new system will be applied to all workers at the managerial level or higher as part of its plan to overcome the current financial crisis. It said it will extend the system to all employees next year.

“Such a system will only benefit high-ranking employees,” a spokesman of the union said. “Some executives, for instance, might receive eight months’ pay as an incentive in the first half of the year while entry-level workers only receive 6 percent of their monthly payment as a bonus.

“The company has been urging many employees, some of them members of the union, to sign new contracts without seeking the consent of the union,” he continued.

“This week will be marked by the strike we have planned,” said Chung, the labor union head. “Things could get worse next week if we don’t see the company trying hard to resolve the issues.”

BY Kwon Sang-soo []

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