Unionists of IKEA Korea tell their plan to go on a strike at the Swedish retailer’s store in Gwangmyeong, Gyeonggi Province. Photo courtesy of IKEA Korea’s labor union

800 unionists are expected to join collective action

The labor union of IKEA Korea announced that it is scheduled to go on a four-day strike beginning on Dec. 24 to protest against low wages and arbitrary working hours.

Union leaders recently held a press conference in front of the IKEA store in Gwangmyeong, Gyeonggi Province, criticizing the Swedish furniture brand’s management.

“Our labor conditions are worse than those in IKEA’s other overseas branches. Our wage is the lowest in the hypermarket industry of Korea. In particular, IKEA Korea’s flexible working-hour systems are the worst of all,” IKEA Korea labor union’s Director Shin You-jeoung said.

“The management calls us coworkers. But in fact, it treats us like slaves. We put forth efforts to change this, but the management is not ready to change anything. Against this backdrop, we have no choice but to walk out. About 800 unionists are expected to join the strike.”

The union has contended that the average hourly wage of IKEA employees is up to $15 in other countries, but that of Korean workers is just around $8, which is just above the country’s minimum wage.

In response, IKEA Korea has iterated that there is no discrimination in its treatment of employees across the globe. The company has also noted that its flexible work-hour systems are for retirees and housewives.

“IKEA Korea has a number of working hour options for part-time co-workers in order to support a healthy work and life balance, so our co-workers can work and grow without having to compromise their life cycle situations as students, housewives, retired seniors or freelancers,” the company said in a recent press release.

“We believe this also helps to create more permanent jobs and a diverse, healthy organization.”

Earlier this year, hundreds of IKEA Korea’s workers unionized. After that, the management and labor have discussed to reach a collective agreement, but the talks fell apart in October.

As a result, the union asked its members whether to engage in collective action. After gaining approval from its members, the labor union has organized various actions to press the management before deciding on the walkout for this week.

IKEA tapped into the Korean market in 2014 to rack up fast growth. It has opened four stores in the country _ three in Gyeonggi Province that surrounds capital Seoul and one in Busan.

The number of its employees is around 2,000 _ the management says that it’s 2,500 while the union counters that the figure is around 1,800. Currently, Managing Director Fredrik Johansson is leading the outfit.

The publisher studied Korean history in Seoul and management of business administration in the United Kingdom. He has 20-year experiences in the media business. Kim can be reached at voc200@gmail.com or 82-2-6956-6698.