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Hyundai Motor Group in Trouble with Korean Metal Workers’ Union
Labor Dispute
Hyundai Motor Group in Trouble with Korean Metal Workers’ Union
  • By matthew
  • July 29, 2013, 02:28
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Workers are demonstrating at Hyundai Motor’s Ulsan plant.
Workers are demonstrating at Hyundai Motor’s Ulsan plant.


Hyundai Motor Group is distressed by the hard line stance of labor unions in the group. It is having a hard time moving ahead with talks with them as the political community and the Korean Metal Workers’ Union (KMWU) are intervening in the wage negotiations between them and its subsidiaries. There have been few labor movements in Korea this year, but the Hyundai Motor Group, unfortunately, has been the target of the KMWU, which is part of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU). The labor organization is claiming above all things that the employees of Hyundai’s subcontractors be converted into regular workers.

All Subsidiaries of Hyundai Motor Group Are on Strike

According to industry sources, the labor union of Hyundai Steel is going to go on strike on July 18. Most union members are expected to participate in the rally, the purpose of which is to get the inside track in wage negotiations for this year. The labor and management sides of the steelmaker had the 10th round of negotiations on July 11 at the company’s Dangjin plant. However, the talks came to a halt after just 30 minutes and they failed to deal with a difference of opinion regarding wage increases and incentive issues. Furthermore, recent workplace accidents have been posing another obstacle to talks as the labor union has held employers responsible for poor safety management.

Hyundai Group subsidiaries have a lot of issues.The trade union has already finished preparations for the strike. It took a vote for industrial action on as early as July 4, with 87.92% of members agreeing to the strike. It has also submitted a request for mediation to the regional labor relations committee.

Conflicting opinions are also found in Hyundai Motor Company, in which the labor and management have had no less than 11 rounds of failed negotiations this year alone. The pending issues between the two include the immunity privilege for labor union executives and the extension of the retirement age to 61. The union of temporary workers, on their part, has illegally occupied factory facilities in its insistence that members become fulltime employees. Things are also unstable for Hyundai Mobis. The labor union of Hyundai Mobis is associated with that of Hyundai Motor Company, meaning the former is supposed to automatically join a strike if the latter stages a walkout.

Pay negotiations are in relatively smooth progress at Hyundai Rotem and Hyundai WIA. However, strikes were also held in part on July 10 and 12 according to instructions from the South Gyeongsang Provincial Branch of the KMWU, and expressing their objection to the court ruling regarding ordinary wages and so forth.

Opposition Parties and Metal Workers’ Union are Targeting Hyundai

Industry insiders are saying that the Hyundai Motor Group cannot resolve problems on its own since labor unions’ demands have to do with issues relating to the entire labor world. “The issues surrounding the ordinary wage, conversion of temps to permanent workers, inhouse subcontracting, and the like have been presented by the labor unions of Hyundai’s subsidiaries,” said an industry source, adding, “The Metal Workers’ Union is using the unions of the automaker as leverage to sway public opinion.”

The intervention by external entities is making things even more complicated. The three opposition parties and the KMWU held a press conference on June 10, prior to special negotiations on illegal employee dispatch, in order to urge the carmaker to convert its temporary workers to permanent employees.

“Looking into the labor unions’ demands, we can see that these are not about improving the working conditions of employees, but turning pending matters into social issues,” said Nam Yong-woo, head of the Industrial Relations Bureau of the Korea Employers Federation. He emphasized, “Such excessive demands are likely to cast a negative impact on the national economy as a whole, as well as the labor-management relations.”

Governmental Authorities Powerless against Violence

The business and political world has been thrown into utter chaos due to the repercussions of violent protests at Hyundai Motor’s Ulsan Plant. Political and business circles and the ruling party expressed concern over “Hope Bus protesters’ violence related to Hyundai Motor’s in-house subcontracting” at the Ulsan Plant, urging the government to exercise its power and take strict action. . With the business and political worlds placed on the defensive due to the global economic recession and legislation related to economic democratization, a sense of crisis that “There is no step back” is spreading.

According to the political and business world and the ruling Saenuri Party, business associations such as the Federation of Korean Industries (FKI), the Korea Chamber of Commerce & Industry (KCCI) and the Korea Employers’ Federation (KEF), and Saenuri Party issued public statements on violent protests in the Hope Bus rally, calling for measures to eradicate such protests and calling on the government respond strongly.

On June 20, approximately 2,500 demonstrators, including the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions and “The Network to make the world without irregular workers” staged a violent protest, including attempts to enter the factory with bamboo sticks after ripping off fences from Hyundai Motor’s third plant in Ulsan. During the incident, approximately 80 people from the management and police and around 20 demonstrators were injured.

Many have denounced the demonstration as something that causes the breakdown of law and order.

At first, FKI remarked that this kind of protest leads to social unrest, and demanded strict law enforcement. It also said, “We express our regret over the fact that participants of the ‘Hope Bus’ who visited Ulsan in the name of calling for change to Hyundai Motor’s in-house subcontractors’ temporary position resorted to indiscriminate violence.”

The FKI said, “We are urging the government take a tough stance against the leaders of the incident, adding, “We are asking labor groups to stop illegal activities related to labor problems and solve such problems through dialogue.” A person in the business world said, “Violence is rampant in industrial sites and government power is weak, even when the company and its employees are threatened by mobs”.

KCCI turned its criticism toward the labor world, saying, “The illegal violent demonstration planned previously in the name of ‘Hope’ actually brought ‘despair’ to citizens this time.” It added, “It is regrettable that the outside force ‘Hope Bus’ interfered with separate labor problems,” and went on, “The government should respond in a strict manner.” KEF said, “The government did not stop things immediately, although it witnessed all sorts of violence,” declaring its position that, “We deeply regret that the police did not take proper measures even though the violence was obviously meticulously prepared in advance.” An official said, “The lukewarm attitude that repeats arresting and releasing is the big problem,” adding, “It’s been a long time since the law in this country became useless against violent protesters.”

The ruling Saenuri Party also demanded tough punishment for the incident. Representative Shim Jae-chul of the Saenuri Party’s Supreme Council spoke during a meeting of its Supreme Council: “The idea of talking about hope through illegal activity doesn’t make any sense, and it is not the ‘Hope Bus,’ but ‘Despair Bus,’ or ‘Violence Bus.’” He added, “Outside intervention is not helpful at all. The government needs to respond strictly and call people to account, including putting in a claim for damages.”

The Saenuri Party’s chief policy-maker Kim Ki-hyun said, “Some group that participated in the so-called “Hope Bus” last weekend infiltrated Hanjin Heavy Industries two years ago and caused citizens in Busan great pain. We should remember that at that time people cried loudly, saying that it was the Despair Bus,” adding, “the Despair Bus, armed with violence, is no longer acceptable, and authorities concerned ought to get to the bottom of it and hold offenders responsible for their actions."