Posco’s new union is one of many at big firms

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Posco’s new union is one of many at big firms


Workers at Korea’s largest steel manufacturer are preparing to launch the first new labor union since the previous union collapsed in 1997.

A committee preparing the new Posco union is planning to hold a general meeting among interested employees on Saturday.

The meeting will determine whether the new labor union should join the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), a national umbrella union. In Pangyo, Gyeonggi, which is filled with technology start-ups, workers at two game companies also established unions this month.

The union at Nexon, one of Korea’s biggest game developers, joined the KCTU. The other was formed at the smaller developer Smilegate.

Workers at both companies said the long working hours and job insecurity, especially of employees in their 40s, were the main reasons behind starting a labor union.

“The local game industry has grown into a 12 trillion won ($10.6 billion) market, but the situation that the workers face has been inferior,” Nexon’s union said in a statement read during a ceremony on Sept. 3 to celebrate the launch of the union. “We will improve the unfavorable working environment, where overwork has become part of everyday life.”

Labor unions have been growing at Korea’s big companies, including IT companies that historically haven’t had unions and union-busting chaebol firms like Samsung Electronics. Samsung Electronics, Korea’s largest company, has long been adamantly against the establishment of unions at the company. Two sales employees facing retirement, however, filed a report to the Labor and Employment Ministry that they were starting a union. In March, Samsung received a notice about the establishment of a union at the company from the government.

Workers at other major companies have joined the trend. Naver, Korea’s largest web portal, launched a union in April, and SK Hynix technicians and office workers also started their own union.

The business community is closely monitoring the union at Posco due to its sheer number of employees. If the 17,000 employees of the steel manufacturer join the new union, it would be the third-largest after the unions at Hyundai Motor and Kia Motors.

“If the size of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions further increases [with Posco’s union joining], the imbalance of power between unions and management could be further tilted,” said an official in the business community.

The recent establishment of unions at conglomerates is likely due to the current Moon Jae-in administration, which is more labor-friendly than the past two conservative administrations.

But Posco’s new labor union may not get off the ground, as there have been several unsuccessful attempts to start unions at the steelmaker since 1997. The reason behind the previous failures was reportedly a lack of interest from the company’s employees.

“There are a lot of employees who do not agree on joining the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions,” said a Posco employee.

BY KIM DO-NYUN [lee.hojeong@joongang.co.kr]
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