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[Newsmaker] HMM workers vote for strike; governments drawing up measures

(Yonhap)
(Yonhap)

The South Korean government said Monday that it was taking measures to cope with any potential disruptions in maritime shipping as a labor strike loomed at the country’s largest shipper, HMM.

Earlier in the day, nearly 88 percent of the 453 unionized longshore workers at HMM voted in favor of the collective action, as their wage negotiations with the company management remained deadlocked.

If realized, it would be the first labor strike at the company.

It is unclear when the union plans to launch the walkout.

Since the collapse of Hanjin Shipping in 2017, HMM is the only large container shipper in Korea.

A strike at HMM could deal a blow to local exporters, which are already struggling with a shortage of containers and a spike in freight rates amid a sharp rebound in exports.

The Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries on Monday formed an emergency task force to prevent any potential disruptions in freight shipping. The ministry also said it would persuade the two sides to engage in last-minute talks to avert the stoppage.

Unionized longshore workers at HMM are demanding steeper pay raises to compensate them for an earlier eight-year wage freeze.

In a display of their determination to get better pay and better treatment, the union members will hand in letters of resignation en masse and consider switching over to a Swiss shipping company, MSC, which was hiring recently, the union said.

“We can no longer serve as slaves on board,” said the union in a statement. “We plan to submit a letter of resignation together on Wednesday.”

The union, however, left open the possibility of a last-minute deal, stressing that management should come up with a better proposal.

Amid the news of a possible strike, HMM’s shares dropped 2.23 percent and closed at 37,350 won.

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