Shown above is the head office of Kia Motors in Seoul. Its union members plan to stage a rolling strike this week by working just four hours a day and refusing to work overtime. Next to Kia Motors is its bigger sister company Hyundai Motor. Photo courtesy of Kia Motors

Unionists opt to lay down tools despite virus pandemic

Even the COVID-19 breakout fails to stop the notoriously militant unionists of Korean automakers, including Kia Motors and GM Korea, from going on a strike.

The labor union of Kia Motors, the country’s second-largest carmaker, plans to go ahead with a rolling strike for three days this week _ a vast majority of its unionists voted in favor of a walkout last week.

They will lay down their tools for four hours a day and refuse to work overtime during Nov. 24 and Nov. 27, which would mark the ninth straight year of collective action.

Kia workers asked the Seoul-based company to raise their basic pay and provide a bonus amounting to 30 percent of its yearly operating profit.

The management countered that it struggles due to the novel coronavirus, but the labor did not accept the rationale during the nine rounds of talks this year.

Kia workers are comparable to those of the firm’s bigger sibling Hyundai Motor, which reached a wage deal without a strike this year. The latter also did not have labor disputes in 2018.

The country’s smaller carmaker GM Korea is facing bigger challenges because its workers have staged a partial strike since late October.

Workers at GM Korea request a bonus payment and a raise in the wage. But the management counters that the company has no financial leeway to do so due to COVID-19 and snowballing debts.

GM Korea netted losses of more than $1 billion in 2018 and 2019, which prompts some observers to worry about the exit of the U.S.-headquartered outfit from Korea.

“General Motors suffer from mounting losses and decreasing market shares here. Hence, it may leave the country as it did in other countries,” Prof. Kim Pil-soo at Daelim University said.

“The continued labor disputes are feared to accelerate the decision. GM Korea’s union members are required to think about the possibility that the firm may really pull out of the country.”

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.