A nonsensical walkoutWorkers at Korea’s largest automaker, Hyundai Motor, decided to strike this summer for the fifth straight year. The union is striking to demand a hike of 7.2 percent, or 152,050 won ($134), on top of the annualized rise to the base salary according to employment years. It also wants 30 percent of what the company net earned last year.
An employee on permanent payroll earns 96 million won on average a year. Even that salary level does not seem sufficient to the union as it is threatening a walkout if it does not get more. Does the union have any idea what is going on in the country and the rest of the world? Workers at dockyards on the southern coast are losing jobs and the economy is mired in a protracted slowdown.
The union also demands the right for office and research employees to refuse promotions to managerial status as a kind of security to keep office workers under union protection if streamlining begins. What the union is demanding breaches into management’s jurisdiction. Can a company expect creativity and productivity from employees who refuse promotions to extend the status quo?
The operation rate at Hyundai Motor’s local production lines in the first quarter was a five-year low of 98.4 percent. Production capacity has not been full due to reduced orders. It takes an average of 26.8 hours to complete a car assembly in local line, compared with 14.7 hours at the company’s factory in Alabama. Productivity and sales of Hyundai Motor’s overseas lines have improved by 70 percent from 2010 levels. Overseas lines are proving to be more productive and cost-efficient than local labor.
The union must be more far-sighted. If it resorts to strike to get whatever it wants, it would be jeopardizing the future jobs of union members and those of its thousands of subcontractors. The management must be more resolute if concessions cannot be expected from the union. The employees are not worth protection if they lack will and devotion. Jobs must be valued before they are lost forever.
JoongAng Ilbo, July 15, Page 34