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Ssangyong ends 6-year labor dispute

Ssangyong Motor’s management and labor union reached a landmark agreement Wednesday to incrementally rehire a group of workers dismissed in 2009 and normalize their relations.

The official settlement concludes a six-year-long dispute that began when Ssangyong Motor laid off 2,646 workers, or some 37 percent of its workforce, in April 2009, sparking mass strikes and protests from the dismissed employees.

Ssangyong Motor CEO Choi Johng-sik (center), labor union leader Hong Bong-seok (right) and head of the Ssangyong Motor chapter of  the Korea Metal Workers’ Union Kim Deuk-jung pose after striking a final settlement on the six-year labor dispute on Wednesday. (Ssangyong Motor)
Ssangyong Motor CEO Choi Johng-sik (center), labor union leader Hong Bong-seok (right) and head of the Ssangyong Motor chapter of  the Korea Metal Workers’ Union Kim Deuk-jung pose after striking a final settlement on the six-year labor dispute on Wednesday. (Ssangyong Motor)

Under the agreement, Ssangyong will rehire, if desired, workers who were forced to leave in 2009 when there is room for new employment in technical positions.

The management also agreed to drop the lawsuit filed against the union, originally seeking 4.7 billion won ($4 million) in compensation and provisional attachments for damages caused by the strike on terms that the labor union also drop charges against the company.

The automaker plans to establish a fund to financially support the dismissed workers seeking reemployment and the family members of 26 workers who died by suicide or of disease since their dismissal.

The breakthrough settlement comes after the Ssangyong management, labor union and the Ssangyong branch of Korea Metal Workers’ Union held some 32 rounds of trilateral negotiations to settle its longstanding differences over the past year.

“The conclusion of the six-year dispute over the 2009 layoffs is a highly significant achievement for the company, which can now focus its efforts on normalizing its operations,” said Ssangyong Motor CEO Choi Johng-sik.

Earlier this year, Anand Mahindra, the chairman of Mahindra Group, which took over the Korean automaker in 2011, had emphasized that the company’s foremost priority was “corporate normalization,” pledging to “reinstate the workers laid off in 2009 in steps.”

The company’s labor union expressed approval of the final settlement deal, vowing to “work to ensure that the agreement is successfully carried out,” according to its leader Hong Bong-seok.

“We will work together to mend all past scars and to ensure all laid-off workers can return to work swiftly,” said Kim Deuk-jung, head of the Ssangyong Motor chapter of the KMWU.

Market analysts had been expecting an improvement in the firm’s relations with labor as the Tivoli -- the first model that Ssangyong Motor jointly developed with its parent firm Mahindra & Mahindra -- has been posting high sales for 11 months since its January launch.

Ssangyong Motor’s sales in November surged 21.5 percent to 12,415 units from a year earlier, the highest year-on-year growth, largely linked to robust sales of the Tivoli.

By Sohn Ji-young (jys@heraldcorp.com)
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