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Hanjin Heavy signs fragile deal

June 27, 2011 - 18:57 By 배지숙
Union agrees to end 190-day strike, but hardliners cry foul against accord

Labor unionists of Hanjin Heavy Industries & Construction’s shipbuilding unit on Monday announced that they would return to their workplaces, ending their 190-day strike against the company’s massive layoff plan.

Still, anxiety is suurrounding the back-to-work move as hawkish unionists cry foul against their leadership’s decision while the cool-headed management shows an ambiguous response to the union’s step.

On Monday, union leaders held another round of negotiations after sending the members back to the manufacturing sites. The union and management agreed that laid-off workers will not be reinstated but will be given special compensation equivalent to that given to those who voluntarily resigned under the company’s restructuring program. Instead the management decided not to file any compensational lawsuits against the unionists for the loss or damage caused by their strike. The company also promised not to reprimand union members who participated in the protests, either.
Family members of laid-off workers of Hanjin Heavy Industries & Construction stage a sit-in protest against the decision not to reinstate dismissed workers even after the 190-day strike wraps up. (Yonhap News)

The agreement came 190 days after the group of laid-off workers and union members started the sit-in on Dec. 20 against the company’s decision to let a total of 2,500 workers go in the near future. Only 400 people volunteered to resign and were guaranteed an additional 15 months salary as compensation.
The unionists held their strike on the HHIC Yeongdo shipyard in Busan, where Kim Jin-suk, a committee member of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, staged a sit-in protest aboard a 35 meter-high crane for more than 150 days. During the strike, management fired another 290 manufacturing workers in January, who had not applied for resignation.

The protest reached its peak a couple of weeks ago when dismissed workers of SsangYong Motors, who have also confronted management and the government, visited the strike site together with liberal socialites and drew public attention.

The political circle moved quickly to summon HHIC Chairman Cho Nam-ho into the National Assembly’s regular session. 
HHIC Chairman Cho Nam-ho

However, Cho refused to show up at the hearing, citing an overseas business trip. Former Speaker Kim Hyoung-o, whose electoral precinct covers the shipyard area, appeared furious over the snub. “I have tried to meet Cho several times but his aides wouldn’t even answer my calls. It is an insult to lawmakers in general. He is hiding away from any responsibility,” he said. Lawmakers sitting on the National Assembly Environment and Labor Committee decided to call in Cho once again Wednesday.

The dramatic end to the strike, which came rather unexpectedly, sparks speculation that the management may have made a hasty action to avoid the accusation expected at the Wednesday hearing. The management and the unionists have held a marathon negotiation over last weekend but failed to reach an agreement since the workers called for the reinstatement while the company threatened to file a damage suit against the workers for their protest.

“There is nothing fishy about the agreement and the company has made no pressure. The company had run out of stocks and the workers agreed that it’s time for them to resume working again,” HHIC spokesman Kim Jae-yong told The Korea Herald.

Still, union leaders face an uphill battle against hawkish in-house members, who insist on carrying out the struggle to win unconditional victory over the management. The leadership has reportedly unilaterally decided to cease the struggle after their attempt to persuade the majority of the members failed by 7:30 a.m. Monday.

The members have locked up the gate to the protest site and blocked the leadership from mobilizing other members until noon.

“We will seek the full reinstatement of the fired workers,” a unionist said.

By Bae Ji-sook (