Car, shipping unions strike today

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Car, shipping unions strike today

The nation’s leading automotive group and the shipbuilding sector are kicking off a strike today to protest wages and corporate restructuring.

It is the first time in 23 years that the automotive and the shipbuilding sectors have joined forces on a strike.

Ahead of the walkout, business lobbying groups and government officials said the labor unions’ actions were “unreasonable” and demanded they halt plans to protest.

The union for Hyundai Motor will strike for four straight days beginning today while union members at Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) will follow for three days.

The strike could grow by Wednesday, when the Hyundai unions join a strike by the Ulsan branch of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions. Ulsan is the major home to Hyundai Motor and HHI as their manufacturing facilities are stationed in the region.

On Friday, Korea Metal Workers’ Union will hold a strike that will be supported by the two companies’ union members.

Hyundai Motor and its union have disagreed over the expansion of the so-called peak-wage system. The union and the company decided to expand implementation of the system during last year’s negotiations but now the union is protesting it. Currently, wage freezes start for workers at 59 and a 10 percent wage slash begins at age 60.

Other demands from the union include a 152,050 won ($133.5) wage raise, a bonus worth 30 percent of last year’s net profit and reinstating a number of former workers. The company wants to implement the peak-wage system for more employees.

HHI’s major demands include the right to recommend a non-executive director. The company is strongly opposed to this, saying it’s the same as demanding the company give union members partial business management rights.

“This is not a time for ... such demands, especially when the company’s survival is at stake,” an HHI spokesperson said.

Hyundai Motor’s workers will halt work for two hours today. On Wednesday, the first shift will strike for four hours, while on Thursday, the second shift will walk out for four hours. On the final day, Friday, the first shift plans a six-hour strike while the second shift will strike the whole day.

HHI union members will stop work for three hours at 2 p.m. today.

“Hyundai Motor’s union members are already paid 97 million won annually with guaranteed support of university tuition for up to three children and they are asking for a wage raise and bonuses … it’s a selfish demand,” said Lee Ki-kwon, the minister of employment and labor, on Monday at the Sejong Government Complex.

Korea Employers Federation said in a report the same day that the unions’ actions have been unreasonable.

“Korea’s economy is facing serious trouble,” the federation said. “While the proposed strikes have put forward failure of wage negotiations as a major reason, their demands are illegal as they actually wish to abolish government plans and company restructuring. We are worried about labor and management relations impacting all Korean industries.”


BY KIM JEE-HEE [kim.jeehee@joongang.co.kr]

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