Hyundai Motor may extend working hours at its Ulsan factory

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Hyundai Motor may extend working hours at its Ulsan factory

Hyundai Motor may extend the workday beyond legal limits for its domestic factory workers in an effort to ramp up production, which has fallen due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The largest automaker by sales in Korea is in discussions with its union to extend work hours to 56 a week for up to three months, which is beyond the legal limit of 52 hours, Hyundai Motor said Thursday.

At the moment, line employees at Hyundai Motor’s domestic plants are working 40 hours per week, and depending on production schedules at individual assembly plants, the hours can be extended to 48 hours with Saturday shifts.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean that all Hyundai Motor factories in Korea are going to get extended hours,” Hyundai Motor spokesperson Kim Tae-sik said over the phone. “The extended work schedule could just apply to the Ulsan factory, where production has suffered the most from the coronavirus.”

The discussion for possible extension is taking place as the fall in production at Hyundai Motor has greatly affected its domestic auto parts suppliers. According to Hyundai Motor, Ulsan-based auto suppliers requested Hyundai Motor last week to increase vehicle production.

Hyundai Motor had production loss of around 80,000 cars last month from its factories shutting for days due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The automaker’s production problem isn’t limited to its factories in Korea, as its auto assembly plant in Montgomery, Alabama, had to close starting 10:30 a.m. Wednesday due to an employee being confirmed as having the coronavirus. The plant has 2,900 full-time workers and 500 part-time employees and manufactures 400,000 vehicles per year.

Hyundai Motor is also suspending production for two weeks in the Czech Republic, and Kia is shutting a plant in Slovakia for two weeks starting Monday.

There is a possibility that Hyundai Motor’s union approves the management’s request to extend work hours.

“If there are no customers, the company can’t survive,” the union said in a newsletter. “Management must bring out everything it has to ensure all parts can be supplied, while unionized workers should work on recovering production.”

Even if the union agrees to Hyundai Motor’s request, it doesn’t necessarily mean Hyundai Motor workers will be on the job 56 hours a week.

As the Hyundai Motor union is under the Korea Metal Workers’ Union, one of the major umbrella labor union groups in Korea, the final approval must receive the group’s blessing. The Korea Metal Workers’ Union has so far made clear that it is against any measures that would have workers work more than 52 hours a week.

Approval must come from the Ministry of Employment and Labor as well. Kim said if the union agrees to Hyundai Motor’s request, the company will seek special approval from the ministry for extended work hours.

Kia Motors said it is monitoring the situation at Hyundai Motor at this point and is planning to make a similar request to the union later.

BY KO JUN-TAE [ko.juntae@joongang.co.kr]

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