Unionised workers at three Hyundai offshore and marine yards in South Korea are reportedly preparing to down tools in December through coordinated strike action.

Unions represented workers at the Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI), Hyundai Mipo Dockyard and Hyundai Samho Heavy Industries’ yards (that comprise Korea Shipbuilding & Offshore Engineering Company) detailed plans for strikes beginning in December because of their long-running dispute over wages and working conditions.

The workers intend to stop work for four hours on 6 December, and again down tools for some time the following day with the strike action escalating to a walkout starting on 13 December if their demands are not met.

Their demands include an increase of 142,300 won ($106) per month in base salary, a guarantee of 250% of wages in bonuses, and job security as the shipbuilding industry goes through restructuring.

They are also demanding the abolition of the peak wage system that cuts the wages of older workers, Upstream reported on 25 October.

If the strikes go ahead as intended, it is understood this will be the first time that the three yards have coordinated their industrial action in a company-wide strike.

“We have no choice but to fight to correct the distorted wage structure system, including low wages and long working hours, and recover a wage cut made during an industry recession,” a representative for the labour unions, was quoted by The Maritime Executive.

The unions for HHI and Samho have already secured approval from the local authorities for their planned industrial action, but the regional labour office is yet to approve a strike for the Mipo Dockyard, which is located in Ulsan, according to The Maritime Executive.

In late October, unionised workers at the three Hyundai yards voted to strike as protracted negotiations on new contracts had been stalled since three months before. The workers then called for the three yards to negotiate collectively rather than on a company-by-company basis.

Union officials met with the South Korean company more than 20 times between July and October, but HD Hyundai (HHI) reportedly rejected the union’s demands, claiming it would cost the company upwards of $175 million annually, according to Business Korea.

Back in July 2021, HHI finally reached agreement over a separate 27-month wage dispute with unionised workers at its yards in South Korea.

Financial losses

Meanwhile, earlier this year sub-contract workers at compatriot Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering’s Geoje Island yard went on strike for 51 days. This industrial action culminated in a hunger strike by some workers while others occupied vessels at the facility.

During the industrial action, which concluded on 22 July, construction work was suspended on some projects, resulting in financial losses for Daewoo.

The striking subcontractors had demanded better working conditions, a 30% wage hike and the minimum of a one-year employment contract.

Although the workers secured a pay rise of around 5%, the union had requested — but did not get — an assurance that Daewoo would not seek compensation as part of its agreement to end the industrial action.

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