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[Opinion] Pantech: an Example to Remember

Posted December. 14, 2004 21:45,   


Chairman Park Duk-kyu of Pantech’s labor union experienced the difficulties of an economic recession first-hand while promoting the company’s mobile handsets for the last three months. Although 2,000 employees promoted products for three days, only 22 handsets were sold. Even those sold were low-end products. He discussed the matter continuously with union members. They came to the conclusion that technology development was the only way to compete with large companies in the industry such as Samsung Electronics and LG Telecom. They reached a consensus to persuade all union members to voluntarily freeze their wages so that the company would be able to invest in new technology development.

The average yearly wage at Pantech stands at approximately 20 million won and is not very high. However, upon hearing that the labor union voluntarily decided to freeze its wages, Vice Chairman Park Byung-yeop decided to freeze executives’ wages but raise employees’ wages 10 percent, asking the union to “please continue to make efforts for the improvement of productivity and quality with that kind of spirit.” This is a heartwarming turn of events compared to the labor disputes by labor unions at large companies with an average salary of 50 million won a year. It is more difficult for a trade union to reach a consensus to freeze their wages than to obtain a double-digit wage increase.

Among militant labor union leaders, a supporter of labor-management cooperation is viewed as similar to a company puppet. A labor union head that personally participates in product promotion and persuades 528 members of the need to develop technology may be regarded as a company puppet by militant labor leaders. However, labor and management are on one boat as a company and will share the same fate in this case. If the boat does not survive a tempest and sinks, who will the labor union fight against, and for what?

To enlarge the rewards that go to the workers, the company must fire up its growth engine full throttle. To grow, it must invest in developing new technologies. Labor head Park, who suggested a wage freeze for technology development, is not a company puppet, but a labor-union head with a CEO mindset. It is all the more important that the captain, helmsman, and crew are in agreement when facing fierce waves. Only then will they be able to save the boat and continue sailing when the storm subsides. The actions of Pantech’s labor and management, understanding and thinking of each other at times of economic difficulty, leave much to think about.

Hwang Ho-taeck, Editorial Writer, hthwang@donga.com