Published : 2013-01-07 19:58
Updated : 2013-01-07 19:58
The ruling Saenuri Party is seeking to address a drawn-out labor dispute at Ssangyong Motor Co. The party’s floor leader Lee Han-koo, accompanied by other lawmakers, visited the company’s factory in Pyeongtaek last Thursday and met with company officials and union leaders.
Lee’s visit was exceptional, given that ruling party leaders have seldom shown up at the scene of labor disputes. He said he went there to see if there was anything that political circles could do to resolve the company’s prolonged strife.
Lee met with union leaders to listen to their demands and visited the 50-meter-high power transmission tower near the plant on which three former employees have been holding a sit-in since November.
Yet Lee was slammed by union leaders for saying that he was still against launching a parliamentary probe into the alleged accounting sleights of hand used to inflate Ssangyong’s loss in 2008. The $75.42 million loss justified the company’s decision to lay off some 2,500 workers in 2009.
The massive layoffs led Ssangyong workers to stage a violent sit-in strike, which was suppressed by the police after disrupting the company’s operation for 77 days. Since then 23 workers and their family members committed suicide or died of stress-related diseases.
Union leaders noted that Saenuri Party chairman Hwang Woo-yea and the party’s lawmakers on the Assembly’s Environment and Labor Committee promised during the presidential campaign period to launch a parliamentary investigation after the vote.
Lee said he was skeptical that a parliamentary investigation would resolve the problem. In his view, the ultimate solution to the problem is for the company to regain competitiveness and increase vehicle sales to the point of being able to keep its promise to rehire the dismissed workers.
A parliamentary probe, Lee probably thought, would not be of any help as it would rather distract the company’s management and employees.
Lee’s visit to the Ssangyong factory was in line with President-elect Park Geun-hye’s commitment to “grand national unity.” On the campaign trail, Park pledged to make layoffs more difficult to reduce social tension. She also promised to declare an area hit by large-scale layoffs as an “employment disaster zone” and provide wage subsidies to companies that hire new employees.
Yet it remains to be seen whether this approach will work. Any solution to the problem should be acceptable not only to the Ssangyong union but to its Indian owner, Mahindra & Mahindra Limited, which acquired a controlling stake in 2011.
During his talks with Lee, the company’s CEO said he would promote, should the union accept it, the returning to work of the 450 workers who have been on unpaid leave since 2009.