Hyundai Motor management, union meet over wage dispute

SEOUL, Aug. 22 (Yonhap) -- Top officials of South Korea's largest carmaker Hyundai Motor Co. were meeting with their counterparts in the labor union on Thursday to try to resolve the latest dispute over wages, officials said, amid no apparent signs of progress.

The full-scale negotiations come two days after Hyundai's 46,000-strong labor union launched a partial strike to press its demand for higher wages and more fringe benefits.

The unionized workers of Hyundai returned to their jobs on Thursday as their leaders were holding high-stakes negotiations with the management soon after 3 p.m.

Company officials did not give any details on whether the company is willing to soften its stance on the union's demand.

Hyundai Motor President Yoon Gap-han, who will represent the company in the negotiations, has said some of the union's demands are excessive and the company cannot accept them.

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.

Union spokesman Kwon Oh-il said his union hopes to quickly resolve the latest dispute by focusing on negotiations if the management offers "forward-looking" proposals.

"We will discuss our future course of action after reviewing the outcome of the negotiations," Kwon said by phone from Ulsan, home to Hyundai's main production facility, located some 410 kilometers southeast of Seoul.

He indicated that the union will down its tools again and increase its protests unless the company makes some concessions.

The negotiations came a day after Hyundai Motor Chairman Chung Mong-koo met with Gov. Nathan Deal of Georgia in Seoul.

Deal's office said on its website that the governor will lead a high-level delegation of Georgia's officials and business leaders to China and Japan Aug. 22-30, though it did not say whether South Korea is part of Deal's itinerary.

Hyundai officials declined to elaborate on the meeting. Still, the rare meeting raised speculation that Deal may have asked Chung to expand Kia Motors' assembly plant in Georgia, which currently has the annual production capacity of 360,000 units.

Kia is Hyundai's smaller sister company, and the two together form the world's fifth-largest carmaker.

Hyundai has a separate assembly plant in Montgomery, Alabama, which has an annual production capacity of 360,000 units.

In May, Chung said that he has no immediate plans to expand factories in the United States, though his group has been struggling with a short supply in the second-largest market due to strikes at home.

Also Thursday, about 30,000 unionized workers of Kia, Hyundai's smaller sister company, returned to their jobs, a day after staging a partial strike to bolster their demands for higher wages and other fringe benefits, according to a Kia official.

Still, the Kia official said his company has no plan to hold full-scale negotiations with the union this week, though working-level contacts are still under way. A Kia union official handling media was not immediately reached for comment.

The partial strikes prevented 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 company officials.

Labor disputes at Hyundai Motor have been an almost annual event in the past two decades. Its workers have downed their 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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