S.Korea's finance workers plan first strike in 12 years
SEOUL, July 13 |
SEOUL, July 13 (Reuters) - Over 70,000 financial sector workers in South Korea voted on Friday to stage their first industry-wide strike in 12 years later this month, adding to concerns over a possible resurgence of major labour unrest in Asia's fourth-biggest economy.
There are already signs that other unions are using more militant tactics as the economic outlook darkens, and many South Korean households struggle to pay off heavy debts.
On Friday, the country's Metal Workers Union, which also includes about 45,000 workers at Hyundai Motor, staged a partial walkout, while transport workers including taxi drivers and truckers went on strike last month.
The country's once-powerful trade unions, largely silenced by conservative President Lee Myung-bak's tough anti-labour stance since he came to power in 2008, are demanding better working conditions as this year's presidential elections approach and Lee's mandatory single term draws to an end.
"The labour groups have been suppressed under the current Lee Myung-bak administration, and they are raising their voices with President Lee losing grip in his final year," said Lee Sung-hee, a research fellow at Korea Labor Institute.
"The ongoing labour disputes are unlikely to come to an end soon as it will be difficult to narrow differences over working conditions," he said.
The Korean Financial Industry Union brings together more than 93,000 members in South Korea's financial industry, which accounted for 6.6 percent of the country's gross domestic product in 2010. It said participation is expected to be high after around 91 percent of voting members agreed to a full strike on July 30.
The strike is not likely to mean a total shutdown of banking operations, but transactions may be delayed, the union chief at Woori Bank said.
The union wants the government to stop the privatisation of financial groups Woori Finance Holdings and KDB Financial Group. It has threatened a further strike next month should their demands not be met.
As well as Hyundai Motor, its affiliate Kia Motors , and the South Korean unit of General Motors also planned to join the umbrella Metal Workers' Union in Friday's partial strike.
The Metal Workers' Union called its strike to highlight its demands that overnight work is scrapped, a proposal that has raised concerns among carmakers about production losses.
The eight-hour stoppage on Friday will cost Hyundai an estimated 4,300 vehicles in lost production worth or 88 billion Korean won ($76.43 million), according to a company spokesman.
He said the labour union is staging a "political, reckless strike" which would hurt corporate competitiveness during the global economic downturn.
Hyundai's union leadership will decide on any future action on Monday, including whether to resume talks or to stage more strikes.
Hyundai shares rebounded from six consecutive days of falls on Friday, ending up 3.43 percent.
Some analysts said they did not expect a prolonged strike at Hyundai, but should it be drawn out, it would hurt Hyundai's sales and profits because of its low car inventory.
"I don't think that working conditions are so bad at Hyundai factories that workers can't stand it anymore. It will be too much if the union stages full strike," said Shin Chung-kwan, an analyst at KB Investment & Securities. ($1 = 1151.4000 Korean won) (Reporting by Hyunjoo Jin; Additional reporting by Joyce Lee; Editing by Daniel Magnowski)
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