Desk-column-Why-IKEA-Korea-workers-go-on-a-strike
From the left picture clockwise, a woman employee carries a product that is bigger than her at an IKEA Korea store; another IKEA Korea employee washes a mountain of dishes; an IKEA Korea worker shows worn-out shoes. The union claims that IKEA Korea sometimes refuses to offer new shoes citing a lack of budget. Photo courtesy of IKEA Korea labor union

Swedish furnish brand needs to listen to voices of unionists

The labor union of IKEA Korea held a press meeting on Dec. 17 at the retailer’s store south of Seoul to announce its plan to go on a four-day strike beginning on Dec. 24.

To listen to the reasons why unionists are set to walk off the job on Christmas Eve, the Korea News Plus tried to contact the union by calling Director Shin You-Jeoung on early Dec. 18.

She did not answer in the morning and instead sent a message that she will ring back. The call came just after 11:30 a.m. for a 15-minute telephone interview.

She asked for understanding that she would talk over the phone while eating because her lunch time is just half an hour.

“Our wage is very low compared to IKEA workers in other countries and employees of other Korean hypermarkets. In addition, our flexible working systems are simply awful,” Shin said.

“The biggest reason for us to start a strike is, however, not about such working conditions. The No. 1 reason behind the collective action is our call that the company should treat us as a human.”

Shin said that IKEA Korea does not treat its workers properly.

“The management calls us coworkers. But in fact, we are treated like slaves,” she said.

Shin sent a few pictures where a woman employee is moving a product alone, which is far bigger than her, and another worker is washing a pile of dishes.

In a picture, an employee wears worn-out shoes.

“Even when safety shoes are worn out, the company sometimes refuses to offer new ones, citing a lack of budget. This is not the proper treatment of the so-called ‘coworkers,’” Shin said.

Asked about the management’s claims that IKEA Korea’s flexible working hours are for retirees or part-time housewives and the labor union is responsible for the collapsed talks, Shin simply rebuffed such claims.

“What we ask for are not big demands. We want the company to treat us as real coworkers and resume sincere talks as soon as possible,” she said.

Included in the key demands of the union are at least 14-hour time interval between “work ends at” and “work starts at” and establishment of clear-cut layoff principles.

They seem to be reasonable. Hopefully, the two sides will be able to iron out the differences to avoid the imminent strike, as the management noted in its recent press release.

“We fully respect and will continue to uphold the terms of the provisional agreements while making full efforts to reconcile our differences on the remaining terms,” the firm said.

“We will continue to seek better ways for IKEA Korea and our social partners to ensure fair compensation and benefits for all co-workers, as well as a sustainable growth of IKEA Korea.”

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