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Strike Deals Another Blow to Bankrupt Carmaker Ssangyong

Strike Deals Another Blow to Bankrupt Carmaker Ssangyong

Posted May. 23, 2009 09:46,   


Fifteen tents stood in a row on the yard of Ssangyong Motor’s Pyeongtaek plant in Gyeonggi Province, where the carmaker’s union held a rally to declare a general strike at noon yesterday.

The wives of 10 union members sat in a tent closest to the factory’s front door. A placard saying, “Please don’t take our fathers’ jobs,” was hung on the tent.

After her nine-year-old child went to school, one of the wives, Gwon Ji-yeong, visited the factory with her other three-year-old child. “It was hard to decide to come here. I think it’d be better to earn money myself for my children, but nobody has taken responsibility,” she said.

“Some even criticize that the company has faced difficulty since workers haven’t worked hard. I decided to come here since I want to let them know that they’re wrong.”

Half of the plant’s workforce is slated for layoff. Certain union members and their families visited the factory to express their determination to help all workers stay. But only around 500 members participated in the rally, far fewer than the 1,450 members of the metal workers’ trade union under the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions.

On the same day, the carmaker’s legal administrator Lee Yu-il stayed in his office in southern Seoul. He called an employee at the factory to have a better understanding of the developments there.

When the employee said, “The number of union workers (attending the rally) is only 500 but around 2,000 members of the confederation are expected to come to the plant.”

To this, Lee answered, “Please protect manufacturing facilities from protesters.”

Workers were busy packing up at Ssangyong’s Seoul office. Phone service was cut off and desks were covered in boxes. Some workers were reassigned to the headquarters located in the Pyeongtaek factory and others were set move to a cheaper office across the street.

Another 243 administrative workers applied for early retirement.

Lee participated in the first meeting of creditors the same day, and appealed to the court and creditors to save the company, which pledged to pursue painstaking restructuring. It was a long day not only for workers but also for management.

After Ssangyong’s largest shareholder Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp. abandoned its management rights in early January, the carmaker began its debt workout program. Though sales have slightly improved since February, it is premature to have high expectations.

Ssangyong’s management decided to cut 37 percent of its workforce and receive applications for voluntary retirement, but lacks enough funds to pay out severance packages immediately.

Lee said Ssangyong`s legal administrators have struggled to get financial support to develop new cars and pursue restructuring for more than a month in visits to the Knowledge Economy Ministry and Korea Development Bank. He even visited the governments of Pyeongtaek and Gyeonggi Province, but the only answer they received was that large-scale restructuring should come first.

woogija@donga.com tesomiom@donga.com