Hyundai's South Korea labor woes strike again

Wed Aug 14, 2013 4:21am EDT
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By Hyunjoo Jin

SEOUL (Reuters) - Hyundai Motor Co's (005380.KS: Quote) 45,000 union workers in South Korea voted to strike over unmet demands including a one-off payment of $2.45 billion from the company's record 2012 profit and gold medals for long-serving employees.

A year after Hyundai's costliest ever work stoppage halted production of more than 82,000 cars worth 1.7 trillion won ($1.53 billion), the world's No. 5 automaker including its Kia Motors Corp (000270.KS: Quote) unit, is bracing for another blow with the union promising an "intensive strike" as early as next week.

Although analysts say another prolonged strike like last year's looks unlikely, the recurring strife is taking a toll on the company's output, reputation and share price.

The union has staged strikes in all but four years since it was created in 1987, making South Korea's auto industry far more prone to industrial action than its big global rivals, the United States, Japan and Germany. About 1,000 Hyundai workers rallied in front of the automaker's Seoul headquarters on Wednesday and police blockaded the entrance.

While the U.S. "Motor City" of Detroit recently filed for bankruptcy protection, Hyundai's production hub of Ulsan boasts the country's highest per capita income, thanks largely to the auto union's successful wage negotiations.

"We don't like to strike. But the company has accepted part of our demand only after we staged strikes," union spokesman Kwon Oh-il told Reuters.

Hyundai Motor shares have shed $1.1 billion in market value since its wage talks collapsed on August 6. The company offered to resume wage talks this Friday, but union chief Moon Yong-moon said he would return to the table only if the company offered a better deal.

The union's requests include performance pay equivalent to eight times the monthly base salary, and the one-off payment equivalent to 30 percent of the company's $8.17 billion in 2012 profit.   Continued...

Workers of Hyundai Motor labour union cast their votes to decide on a strike at their plant in Ulsan, about 410 km (255 miles) southeast of Seoul, August 13, 2013. REUTERS/Lee Sang-Hyun/Yonhap