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Unionized workers of Hyundai Motor, Kia down tools over wages


SEOUL, Aug. 21 (Yonhap) -- Tens of thousands of unionized workers of Hyundai Motor Co. and Kia Motors Corp. downed their tools over wages amid efforts to resolve the latest dispute that cut the carmakers' vehicle output, officials from the two companies said Wednesday.

About half of Hyundai's 46,000-strong labor union was staging a two-hour strike for the second straight day at Hyundai's plants and facilities, including the main assembly plant in Ulsan, some 410 kilometers southeast of Seoul, officials said.

The rest of Hyundai's union members were set to stop work between 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., according to the officials.

Also Wednesday, about 30,000 union members of Kia, another flagship unit of Hyundai Motor Group, either staged a two-hour walkout at their plants or were prepared to join the partial strike, according to the officials.

The partial strike comes as Hyundai's union was holding working-level talks with the management to try to work out differences ahead of full-scale negotiations scheduled on Thursday.

"We cannot reach a conclusion tomorrow if we fail to coordinate our opinions at the ongoing working-level talks," a Hyundai official said by phone from Ulsan. He asked not to be identified, citing policy.

Hyundai's union is demanding, among other things, a hike of 130,498 won (US$117) in basic salaries and a one-year extension of the retirement age to 61, as well as a performance-based bonus equal to 30 percent of the company's net profit last year that reached 9 trillion won.

It also calls for 10 million won each for workers' children who choose to seek employment instead of going to college.

Repeated calls to Hyundai union spokesman Kwon Oh-il seeking comment on the working-level talks went unanswered.

Kia said it did not hold any working-level talks with its union on Wednesday, a day before resuming full-scale negotiations on Thursday. A Kia union official handling media was not immediately reached for comment.

The partial strike could prevent Hyundai and Kia, which together form the world's fifth-largest carmaker, from producing 5,447 units, costing the carmakers 108 billion won in lost production, according to the company officials.

Labor disputes at Hyundai Motor have been an almost annual event in the past two decades. Its workers have downed tools every year since 1986 except for in 1994, 2009, 2010 and 2011. A strike last year cost the carmaker some 1.7 trillion won in lost production.

Kia's union has gone on strike every year except in 2010 and 2011 since 1999, when the country's No. 2 carmaker was taken over by Hyundai following the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis.

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