[News Focus] More labor unions being created at Samsung

By Song Su-hyun

New trade union launch at Samsung Welstory raises questions

  • Published : Nov 6, 2017 - 18:09
  • Updated : Nov 6, 2017 - 18:09
Monday’s announcement of an additional trade union at Samsung Welstory, a meal service provider separated from former Samsung Everland, has prompted a number of questions, including exactly how influential are the labor unions at the conglomerate which is known to be intolerant towards such activities.

The latest trade union internally formed on Sept. 8 also appeared to reflect the ongoing rivalry among the country’s two largest umbrella labor unions, according to industry watchers.

The new union is under the Federation of Korean Chemical workers’ Union of the Federation of Korean Trade Unions.

According to the FKTU, the newly launched labor union of the Samsung affiliate received a certificate of a corporate-level labor union from the Ministry of Employment and Labor’s Jungbu Office. The labor union was formed and officially joined the FKCU last month, and has demanded its management collective bargaining in a letter sent on Oct. 24. 
Members of Samsung Welstory’s FKTU union pose after holding a meeting on Sept. 8. (Yonhap)

Meanwhile, another trade union representing Samsung Welstory was formed prior in April and joined the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions. The KCTU is generally considered more progressive than the FKTU.

“Samsung Welstory now has two trade unions each under the FKTU and the KCTU,” said Cho Dae-hwan, secretariat of Samsung Labor Watch, a civil group outside of Samsung. “But it is too early to say the creation of a new labor group is a positive sign (for increasing activities for the interests of employees). We need to see what the new labor union does as its next step in order to grasp the intention of its launch.”

Some raise suspicions that the Samsung Welstory’s FKTU trade union has been formed for political reasons.

Under the labor law, for companies that have multiple trade unions, the unions must release the number of their union members to officially represent the companies.

The KCTU union has 64 members, while the FKTU has 45.

While the KCTU union has contended that it is a bigger trade union, the FKTU one is arguing that the group is the first independent corporate-level union that is able to exercise all bargaining rights without approval from upper-level unions.

The KCTU union is under the Korean Metal Workers’ Union, and it needs approval from the KMU for bargaining.

“We have won the bargaining rights, and we will solely exercise the rights,” said Yim Won-wee, leader of the KCTU union at Samsung Welstory.

According to Samsung Welstory, the two labor unions will hold talks for two weeks on unifying the bargaining rights, and decide who will officially represent the company‘s labor side.

“The two unions seem to be fighting for leadership and bargaining power (under the influence of the umbrella unions),” a Samsung official said.

Coinciding with the inauguration of the labor-friendly Moon Jae-in administration, the country’s largest conglomerate has been seeing some changes in the otherwise strict management culture.

According to the Samsung official, the first actual corporate-level labor union was actually formed on Aug. 4, at S1 Corporation, a Samsung security service affiliate.

At S1, the labor union attained some “meaningful” achievements, according to a company insider.

“About two months ago, the labor union successfully changed the incentive-based salary system that was switched by management without employees’ consent back to the seniority-based system,” the insider said. “However, union members are suffering from some backlash, including low grades for annual performance reports,” the insider claimed.

Cho Jang-hee, head of a trade union at Samsung C&T’s resort business division said, “Samsung officially never says it opposes the establishment of trade unions.”

Cho was fired in 2011 for creating the trade union, but returned to the company in March after the Supreme Court ruled his dismissal was illegal following an almost five-year legal battle against Samsung.

“The newly formed Welstory union is highly likely to be a company-dominated group, since the management cannot hinder the existing union’s activities,” Cho said.

To the question of the possible spread of labor activities to other Samsung affiliates, external watchers remain skeptical.

“The moves (within Samsung affiliates) wouldn’t be easily spread to flagship affiliates like Samsung Electronics where management is a meticulous watchdog,” said Cho of the Samsung Labor Watch.

By Song Su-hyun (