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Rising Concern of “Spring Strikes” by Labor Unions

Posted May. 05, 2003 21:40,   


Concern over possible nationwide “spring strikes” by Korean labor unions have increased as large companies have begun negotiations on wages and collective bargaining with labor unions including Hyundai Motor Company and Doosan Heavy Industries and Construction.

Local chapters of the Korean Cargo Transport Workers` federation in Pohang and Kyungnam, an umbrella group of the Korean Shipping and Loading Labor Union, which account for about 90% of total freight traffic volume, went on strike May 2 and Kia Motor company`s labor union walked out on the same day for paid holidays occurring between two holidays.

The Korean Metal Workers` Federation will start negotiations with representatives from 96 local companies on May 6. The group is demanding implementation of a five-day work week system, abolishment of discrimination against part-time workers, both being very difficult to be accepted by companies. Against this backdrop, conflict between business and labor unions is expected to intensify.

Korean businesses are currently complaining that as the new government has continuously expressed its opinion in favor of labor unions, workers` expectations toward their treatment by companies have increased. Companies say that they don`t know what to do with these unacceptable demands from workers at a time when the Korean economy is facing difficulties.

The number of strikes staged by labor unions was 322 in total, a record-breaking figure since 1990. As of the end of April this year, a total of 54 strikes took place, 35% (40 strikes) up from the same period last year.

Hyundai Motor Company`s labor union started negotiations with its managerial leadership on April 18. It is calling for the company to accept about a list of 80 demands including raising basic wages up to 11% and performance-based financial rewards to 200%; adopting a five-day work week system without any conditions attached; allowing for more opportunities for workers` participation in business management; knowing in advanced when the company plans to establish factories in foreign countries; or restoring honor to those who were laid off or fired as part of disciplinary action.

Doosan Heavy industries and Construction was forced to halt operations in the wake of a suicide incident where a labor union member set fire to himself. The company began negotiations with its labor union. The union is calling for a wage increase, implementation of a five-day work week system, and countermeasures against job-related diseases.

The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions is currently planning to put more pressure on the government to revise labor –related laws.

ysshin@donga.com sanjuck@donga.com