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Specter of labor strike grows at HMM

(HMM)
(HMM)

Unionized longshore workers at South Korea’s largest shipper, HMM, began voting Sunday on whether to go on strike after three rounds of wage negotiations failed.

Should they vote in favor of the collection action, it will mark the first strike at the shipper since its establishment in 1796.

The longshore workers’ union has around 450 members. Results are scheduled to come out Monday afternoon.

The motion is likely to pass, according to local media reports, as the labor union and company management remain far apart on wage increase proposals.

The union demands a 25 percent hike in wages and a bonus worth some 1,500 percent of the monthly wage to compensate workers for an earlier eight-year wage freeze.

While wages rose 2.8 percent last year, the increase fell far below the industry average considering that the company posted record operating profit, workers argue.

After talks with creditors the management suggested an 8 percent wage increase, plus bonuses equal to 500 percent of the monthly salary, but 95 percent of the longshore workers rejected the proposal last week.

Separately, office workers at HMM, represented by a different union, are to vote Monday on whether to go on strike.

A work stoppage at HMM could trigger a major supply chain risk, as many Korean companies struggle to secure large-freight ships like the ones provided by HMM amid an all-time high in exports.

Under Korean law, crews are prohibited from staging collective action if they are on water. However, union members can refuse to unload cargo or depart from ports. 

Matters may get even worse if land-based workers who are in charge of adjusting shipping schedules join in the demonstration, media reports said.

Others raised the possibility that the management could persuade the creditors to agree to another round of negotiations in hopes of a last-minute deal, since the risk of a strike is significant for both the company and the workers.

“We would like to avoid a strike as much as possible,” said one official from HMM’s labor union. “The management needs to take a progressive stance on this issue.”

By Kang Jae-eun (kang.jaeeun@heraldcorp.com)
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