Samsung faces threat of first-ever strike

Within the usually quiet analysis centre at Samsung Electronics’ head workplace in Hwaseong, loudspeakers blare as union activists exhort employees to hitch their marketing campaign for increased wages on the storied Korean firm.

The union desires a 6 per cent pay rise whereas Samsung is providing solely 4 per cent — near the inflation charge. Except chair Lee Jae-yong involves the desk for negotiations, they’ll poll their members on a strike — which might be the primary ever at an organization that solely recognised unions in 2020.

“We’re asking the corporate to deal with its employees in accordance with its world standing,” mentioned Son Woo-mok, chief of the ten,000-strong Nationwide Samsung Electronics Union.

The specter of strike motion comes at a delicate time for Samsung, which posted a report $3.4bn loss in its chip division within the first quarter. It has been pressured to chop chip manufacturing amid an trade hunch and the US-China know-how rivalry. For Samsung, beforehand recognized for its aggressive stance to organised labour, that is new territory.

“The corporate is now at a crossroads, belatedly going by the rocky course of,” mentioned Bae Kyu-shik, a labour skilled in Seoul. “Given its lack of expertise in coping with unions, it received’t be simple to successfully deal with the brand new challenges of fine-tuning varied employees’ calls for.”

Traders are watching carefully, mentioned Park Yoo-kyung, an funding adviser on governance at APG Asset Administration. “As a long-term shareholder we’re involved, as Samsung is comparatively inexperienced by way of managing industrial relations,” she mentioned. “A strike isn’t a win-win answer for anybody, particularly at a troublesome time like this.”

The stand-off at Samsung comes amid a wider crackdown on commerce unions in South Korea by the nation’s conservative president Yoon Suk Yeol. A former prosecutor, Yoon has described the hardline Korean Confederation of Commerce Unions as a “deep-rooted evil”, encouraging state officers and prosecutors to conduct sweeping critiques of alleged unlawful union exercise. The unions have organised common avenue demonstrations in response.

Samsung’s founder Lee Byung-chull, grandfather of the present chair, allegedly declared that unions could be allowed on the agency “over my lifeless physique”. South Korea’s labour unions have a status for militancy and corporations akin to Hyundai Motor have needed to grapple with frequent strikes over wages and different working circumstances.

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In 2019, throughout the administration of leftwing president Moon Jae-in, state prosecutors alleged Samsung had been concerned in union busting, in addition to threatening to chop the wages of staff linked to unions and withdrawing enterprise from subcontractors who appeared union-friendly. In 2019 a number of executives have been convicted of union sabotage and, since then, the corporate has sought to reset relations with employees.

The union now represents about 9 per cent of Samsung’s 120,000 home staff, a fraction of the 46 per cent common union membership at large Korean corporations.

Membership has grown from simply three folks to 10,000 in 4 years, because the union has attracted engineers, researchers and manufacturing employees asking for higher remuneration and extra holidays. Whereas Samsung has lengthy had a status as among the finest employers in South Korea by way of pay and welfare advantages, its salaries have fallen behind some SK Group models.

The union has held greater than 20 conferences with firm officers this yr however the talks have reached an deadlock, therefore the request for the chair to enter talks. “The absence of high managers on the negotiating desk implies that they aren’t correctly recognising us as a counterpart,” Son mentioned.

He added that the strike plan could be put to a vote if Lee continued to refuse to speak to them, although they haven’t set a deadline for his response but. “We’re patiently ready for his response, given the large implications {that a} strike may have on the nationwide economic system and the worldwide provide chain,” he mentioned. “You already know what occurs to a chip plant if the method stops only for a second,” he mentioned, referring to the prolonged means of restarting manufacturing.

Union members additionally complain of the corporate’s “fear-driven” inflexible company tradition and “too extreme inner competitors” amongst employees. They’ve additionally known as for a safer work atmosphere. In 2018, Samsung compensated employees uncovered to dangerous chemical substances at its chipmaking vegetation. The corporate mentioned office security had improved since then and it was investing closely to make additional enhancements.

Samsung mentioned it might proceed to speak to the union to achieve an settlement. “The corporate ensures the staff’ proper to determine and be a part of labour unions in addition to to discount collectively, and respects lawful union actions below the related legal guidelines and rules,” the corporate mentioned.

Samsung’s anti-labour status makes many employees reluctant to hitch the union. “We’d like a union to voice our opinions however I don’t need to be a part of it as a result of which will scale back my probabilities of getting an abroad job or promotion,” mentioned Lee, a Samsung marketer in his early 30s.

Park Ju-geun, head of analysis group Leaders Index, cautioned that Samsung’s performance-driven remuneration coverage made it vulnerable to labour conflicts. He predicted that Samsung was more likely to keep its “high-handed” strategy. “Previous habits die arduous. The way in which Samsung now treats its unions isn’t so totally different from their previous practices,” he mentioned. “However it received’t have the ability to proceed to disregard them as their members improve and their energy will get stronger.”

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