HD Hyundai, Hanwha, Samsung face intensifying disputes with shipyard workers


Labor-management conflict at domestic shipyards has been heightened, as unionized workers call for higher salaries and improved welfare benefits amid an ongoing shipbuilding boom, according to industry officials, Monday.

Given that Korean shipyards have struggled with labor shortages in recent years, unions are expected to flex their muscles further against company management at their workplaces.

Last Thursday, unionized workers at Hanwha Ocean’s shipyard on Geoje Island, South Gyeongsang Province, clashed physically with their managers, as the workers tried to block a car claimed to have been carrying Hanwha Group Vice Chairman Kim Dong-kwan.

“Strikebreakers injured multiple union leaders, causing two of them be hospitalized,” the Hanwha Ocean union said. “Hanwha’s gangster-style management philosophy is destroying our labor-management relations.”

Workers claimed that Kim ignored their request for talks on payments for restricted stock units (RSUs). An RSU refers to stock-based employee compensation that is not fully transferable until certain conditions are met. Last year, Hanwha Ocean promised to give its shipyard workers RSUs equivalent to 300 percent of their wages, but the company did not follow through earlier this year, after it failed to turn a profit for 2023.

Management claimed that workers blocked a car not carrying Kim and that one of its executives told the workers that he would convey their requests to the vice chairman.

HD Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) is facing difficulties in reaching an agreement with its union during this year’s collective bargaining, as the workers have urged the company to extend the retirement age to 65 from 60 and to permit its members to decline being promoted to positions that are ineligible for union membership.

Its labor and management are also at odds over facial recognition machines installed to check whether subcontracted workers arrive for work.

“Expectations are great for the shipbuilding industry boom, but the result depends on how well we do this year,” HD HHI CEO Lee Sang-kyun said during the first meeting for this year’s wage talks on June 4.

“Unionized shipyard workers will continue seeking benefits from the recent improvement in earnings of major shipbuilders,” a shipbuilding industry official said. “However, companies will likely remain cautious about increasing wages and enhancing welfare benefits, because not all shipbuilders started off making profits.”

Source: The Korea Times