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[Newsmaker] Ikea labor conflict deepens over ‘discriminatory’ treatment of local staff

Ikea Korea labor union goes on second strike for indefinite period, as negotiation falls through

Ikea Korea labor union members at a sit-in protest in front of Ikea Gwangmyeong outlet in Gyeonggi Province on Tuesday. (Korean Mart Labor Union)
Ikea Korea labor union members at a sit-in protest in front of Ikea Gwangmyeong outlet in Gyeonggi Province on Tuesday. (Korean Mart Labor Union)

Ikea Korea, the local subsidiary of the Swedish furniture brand, is facing an escalating internal conflict as its labor union has gone on another round of strikes, accusing the company of discriminatory treatment.

The Ikea Korea’s labor union started Tuesday a sit-in protest in front of its Gwangmyeong outlet in Gyeonggi Province for an indefinite period, claiming that the company has failed to deliver its promises to improve the working conditions and avoided answering their main requests.

The company management, however, rejected accusations of unequal treatment and said the labor union is spreading incorrect information.

The unionists claim Ikea is underpaying local staff, compared to staff elsewhere, in regards to work hours, wages and benefits.

In their first strike from Dec. 24-27, about 800 workers at three of the furniture outlets and call service centers walked out.

“The treatment Ikea Korea staff are getting is not so different from that given to the workers back in the 70s. Is it too much to ask for break times and pay for meals?” union leader Jung Yoon-taek said in a press conference Tuesday.

Among the list of demands the laborers are making, one is to guarantee a six-hour working day, as workers are often allocated fewer hours and therefore less pay, Jung told The Korea Herald.

Other points include establishing an “equal” wage system that matches that of overseas branches, meaning extra pay for work on weekends and at night.

The labor union also demands free lunches and a longer maximum period of paid sick leave of up to three months.

On setting the minimum work hour, the two sides came to an agreement, but the management is refusing to cite the start date, the labor union said, accusing the firm of trying to delay implementation.

On the other hand, Ikea Korea said the union’s claims were untrue, and that it has been making efforts to establish a stable workplace for staff members since it entered Korea in 2014.

“We deeply regret that labor union has announced another sit-in protest in front of the outlet and claims what is not consistent with the facts,” Ikea Korea said in a statement.

Saying that it has been sincerely attending talks with the labor union, the company said it came to an agreement on 89 points with the labor union after about 30 rounds of negotiations.

“With sincere efforts to mend the differences, the labor union is repeatedly spreading information that is far from the truth. This not only damages the reputation and the values for the company but also influences the shopping experience of the customers.”

Ikea Korea said the furniture brand considers multiple factors, including the country’s economic indicators, legal minimum wage levels and related regulations when setting the standard wage in a country it operates in. It said it has been providing wages and benefits that respect related laws and the market situations in Korea.

While another round of negotiations was to be held Thursday, the labor union said it may expand its sit-in protest to other outlets, including those in Goyang and Giheung in Gyeonggi Province if the talks fail again.

By Jo He-rim (herim@heraldcorp.com)
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