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Crusader for Peaceful Labor Relations Honored

Posted May. 13, 2009 08:10,   


“A senior member of a company’s union once bragged about using violence in kicking the door to the CEO`s office as if it were a courageous act. This isn`t something to brag about, right? How does such an act benefit workers?”

Cho Hee-kook, 45, head of the manufacturing division at Renault Samsung Motors, said this to The Dong-A Ilbo at an event marking “Automobile Day” at the COEX Inter-Continental Hotel in Seoul yesterday.

Cho received a presidential award for his contributions to peaceful labor-management relations while chairing a labor committee at Samsung Renault for four years. The committee is the equivalent of a union at the automaker, which has no official union.

This is the first time for the head of a union or worker committee at a Korean automaker to win a government award. Renault Samsung, which was established in 2000, has had no labor disputes.

Cho was reportedly hesitant to receive the award as a workers` representative. In his early years as chairman of the committee, he was criticized as being "management`s puppet" by the unions of other auto companies. “I worked hard to ensure that workers and myself felt proud of me as a leader. Now unions at other companies recognize our activities.”

On union activities at other automakers, Cho declined to be critical, saying, “Many people are working very hard,” but added, “However, it is problematic that certain labor groups are getting too political and militant.”

“Is capital (companies) exploiting workers now as it did in the 1980s?” he said, adding, “Not only unions but also many civil forces are on the side of the socially underprivileged. Under this circumstance, it is in everyone’s interest for concerned parties to hold dialogue.”

Cho did seem critical of other unions that chant political slogans, saying, “To ensure workers’ interests, labor leaders must engage in negotiations over issues that workers want.”

As an example of mutual interest gained through compromise, he mentioned the change to the “two-consecutive daytime shift system” from the "day and night shift" system" at his company. The new system allows the company to reduce overtime work while maintaining productivity, and freed manufacturing workers from nightshifts, which could spoil their health. Hyundai Motor is also considering introducing this system.

Knowledge Economy Vice Minister Lim Chae-min and Korea Automobile Manufacturers Association Chairman Yoon Yeo-cheol both said in speeches that Korea can survive and thrive only through a change in its labor-management culture.

Lim said, “Korean automakers can never join the league of the world’s top carmakers if labor and management continue irrational and outdated practices. They must learn lessons from the U.S. Big Three automakers, which face bankruptcy due to a high cost structure stemming from labor-management disputes.”

Yoon said, “Korean automakers must learn lessons from the U.S. Big Three and end irrational industrial relations.”

Thirty-five other people received awards at the ceremony, including Kia Motors President Chung Eui-sun; GM Daewoo Auto & Technology Executive Director Lee Sung-sang; Daewon Kang Up Vice Chairman Huh Seung-ho; and Hyundai Motor Executive Director Park Soo-chul.