Firms must not lose their resolve against illegal strikes
Published : 2013-12-23 19:26
Updated : 2013-12-23 19:26
Courts have recently handed down a series of stiff rulings against workers involved in illegal strikes. These rulings are welcome as they will help curb illegitimate industrial action and union militancy.
Last Thursday, the district court in Ulsan told 22 irregular workers of Hyundai Motor to pay 9 billion won to the carmaker for the losses they had inflicted on it by staging an illegal strike in 2010. The figure represents the largest-ever award of damages in relation to an illegal strike.
In November that year, employees of Hyundai’s in-house subcontractor companies illegally occupied the carmaker’s No. 1 plant in Ulsan for 25 days, demanding that Hyundai hire them as full-time, regular workers.
Hyundai estimated its losses stemming from the strike at 320 billion won. It filed seven suits against 475 members of the regular and irregular workers’ unions, claiming a total of 20.3 billion won in damages.
The court began to deliver its verdicts on the cases in October. The Thursday ruling was the fifth one. In the previous four cases, the court ordered 55 people to pay a total of 2.56 billion won to Hyundai.
The latest compensation order could be seen as excessive, given the employment status of the defendants. They only earn about two-thirds of regular Hyundai workers’ wages and face other disadvantages.
But the court justified its ruling, saying that the striking workers had gone beyond the bounds of accepted norms. It even suggested that it might have delivered a more stringent sentence.
Delivering its verdict Thursday, the court said it had to limit the compensation amount to 9 billion won because that was what the carmaker had claimed, although its losses caused by the 22 irregular workers exceeded that.
Last month, a district court in Pyeongtaek also meted out a tough sentence against union members of Ssangyong Motor Co. It ordered them to pay 3.3 billion won to the automaker and 1.3 billion won to police for the damage they had caused during their 77-day strike in 2009.
Underlying these rulings is a growing consensus that Korean society can no longer afford to tolerate excessive industrial action that goes beyond the limits of the law. Industrial disputes should be resolved peacefully through dialogue between labor and management.
In the past, violent labor strikes were tolerated to a degree, as labor was considered the underdog. But these days, unions of large corporations, such as Hyundai Motor, are more powerful than management. Their reliance on illegal strike activities should no longer be tolerated.
In this regard, it was right for Korea Railroad Corp. to sue the workers who illegally went on strike Dec. 9. The company initially claimed 7.7 billion won in damages, but plans to make additional claims as the continued strike adds to its losses.
It is not the first time for KORAIL to demand compensation from its striking workers. In 2011, the Supreme Court ordered its union to pay 7 billion won to the company for the losses caused by its illegal strike.
One way to curb illegal industrial actions is for companies to sue their workers for compensation. And if the court awards damages, they should collect them without fail. If they show lenience, militant unions will never stop taking excessive measures to attain their goals.