[Newsmaker] Tower crane workers stage all-out strike, halt construction nationwide

By Kim Bo-gyung

Bone of contention in the conflict is the growing use of remote-controlled small tower cranes

  • Published : Jun 4, 2019 - 16:22
  • Updated : Jun 4, 2019 - 16:26

Tower crane workers affiliated with the Federation of Korean Trade Unions and the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions took over some 2,500 tower cranes at construction sites nationwide in an all-out strike, calling for a ban on small tower cranes and a wage hike, the unions said Tuesday.

Labor unions say small tower cranes are more vulnerable to accidents, whereas the Construction Association of Korea argues otherwise on the grounds that the driverless equipment can be controlled by a technician from a safe location. The unions are also pushing for a 7 percent increase in wages.

A tower crane that weighs less than 3 metric tons is categorized as a small tower crane. It is also often called a driverless tower crane, as the remote-controlled machine does not have a driver’s seat.

Work at construction sites has been put on hold due to the sit-in, spurring concerns about delayed completion and escalating costs if the collective action continues.

Some 2,500 tower cranes, out of about 3,500 in use countrywide, have been taken over by union members, according to Construction Association of Korea estimates. This is the first time the two major unions have staged a joint strike.

“Small tower cranes have officially been listed as construction equipment since 2014. Due to a lack of clear standards, illegally altered equipment and falsely registered (cranes) are used at construction sites,” said the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions.

Striking tower crane workers stage a sit-in to protest the use of small tower cranes at an apartment construction site in Ulsan on Tuesday. (Yonhap)

The unions argue the government has harmed the interests of workers who operate standard tower cranes by “encouraging” the use of small tower cranes.

A total of 1,845 small tower cranes have been registered nationwide since 2014, and of those 1,171 are in operation, according to data from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport.

Objecting to the labor activists’ claims, the Construction Association of Korea said “small tower cranes are safer than large ones,” given that technicians control the equipment remotely from a safe place rather than high above the ground.

Critics say reduced job opportunities for tower crane drivers are at the heart of the clash, as they fear being replaced by small tower cranes.

Whereas tower crane drivers are required to earn a national license, it is easier to qualify for a license to operate a small tower crane after completing about 20 hours of education on construction equipment control and passing a test.

The number of small tower crane operators currently stands at 8,256, and these workers make up almost half the 16,883-strong tower crane workforce.

To improve safety, on-site surveys are to be conducted until year-end to stop the use of tower cranes that have been illegally modified or falsely registered, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport said.

The government has been canceling registrations and taking criminal action against incorrectly registered small tower cranes since November last year.
By Kim Bo-gyung (