Workers go on strike to pin blame on management

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Workers go on strike to pin blame on management

Workers at Korea’s heavy industries are mad as hell and walking off the job, saying bad business is the result of bad management and demanding their salaries be raised and jobs made secure.

Workers at three of the nation’s nine shipbuilding companies - Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering (DSME), Hyundai Heavy Industries and Samho Heavy Industries - started a partial strike on Wednesday, walking off the job each day for a week from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Employees of the other six companies, including Samsung Heavy Industries and Hyundai Mipo Dockyard, are still negotiating next year’s wages with management or putting the decision to join the strike to a vote. Workers at Hanjin Heavy Industries have refused to participate in the partial walkout.

“If the managements don’t come up with a new [salary raise and job stability guarantee policy] plan soon, the association will hold another joint strike next Thursday [which is planned to be a longer partial strike jointly with Hyundai Motor union],” said representatives of the three striking companies’ unions. The aforementioned association represents workers of all nine companies in the industry and is led by Hyundai Heavy Industries.

DSME’s union has raised the stakes by announcing Wednesday that workers are going on a hunger strike to call for the company’s creditor, Korea Development Bank, to save the company by injecting new money.

The workers argue that management has been pushing its own recovery plan without input from the union. The management’s plan relies on layoffs, the union claimed.

Shipbuilding isn’t the only industry with angry workers. The union of Hyundai Motor is considering a strike and put it to a vote Wednesday, though the result wasn’t available by press time. The management at the country’s No.1 automaker refused a raise requested by labor, while the union strongly opposed the management’s decision to implement the so-called peak wage system next year.

Industry insiders said it was highly likely the strike would be called.

“These manufacturers are big ones that have a big effect on their suppliers, related industries like steel, materials and parts,” said Joo Won, head researcher at the industry analysis department of the Hyundai Research Institute, “as well as on the domestic economy, in particular the local economies of nearby regions.

“The disconnect between labor and management and the power of unions in Korea indicate that Korea has a labor-management culture different from other countries, for sure,” Joo continued. “But there’s nothing much others can do because the strikes are perfectly legal. However, the union’s intervention in management decisions may prevent positive structural change from happening if the intervention gets excessive.

“The shipbuilders are facing an acute crisis, and industry insiders are discussing industry-wide restructuring,” Joo said. “In fact, there’s not a lot the unions can get from strikes in this industry because the companies themselves are on the verge of extinction.”

Some of the recent strikes even affected business decisions like mergers and acquisitions. One such example is Kdac, an auto parts manufacturer that makes brakes and air conditioners. The company’s workers last month held a rally opposing management selling to S&T Motive, a local heavy industry company. The acquisition process was halted, but management sued the union representatives earlier this month. The Kdac union is under the Korean Metal Workers’ Union, a left-wing radical trade union.

BY kim ji-yoon, kim ki-hwan [kim.jiyoon@joongang.co.kr]

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