South Korean Shipyard Workers Prepare to Strike


Published Jul 13, 2016 9:04 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Wednesday, a coalition of South Korean shipbuilding unions held a news conference in Seoul to announce that their members will strike in protest of government and industry efforts to reshape the nation's yards. 

“Until now we have demanded that [shipbuilders] should stop restructuring that passes the blame  to the laborers,” the coalition said. “We have patiently tried to seek a peaceful resolution, but we realized that an all-out strike is the only way to defend the shipbuilding industry and our jobs.”  The action is scheduled for July 20. A union representing industrial plant construction workers will join in. 

The union coalition represent workers from eight of the nation's yards. 

Separately, employees of Samsung Heavy Industries, one of South Korea's "Big Three" leading shipyards, staged a sit-in strike at the company's Seoul headquarters Wednesday, the second such action so far this month. Last Thursday, 3,000 workers held a four hour sit down strike. Samsung does not allow a union, but it has an associated labor council, which voted in favor of strike action in late June.

Like shipyard employees at other South Korean firms, the workers at Samsung are demanding the suspension of a government-backed restructuring initiative. "We cannot accept a forced restructuring plan and lay-offs,” the union told FT. “We will stop the strike only when the company decides to let go of the restructuring plan."

Samsung intends to shed 1,500 positions this year, and to cut head count by 40 percent by the end of 2018. 

South Korean President Park Geun-Hye has forcefully advocated layoffs as a way to restore heavily indebted shipbuilders to financial stability. 

"The [shipbuilding] companies, along with creditor banks, should make bone-crushing efforts to revive their businesses," she said in a speech to parliament last month. "If we don't carry out a bold restructuring by downsizing the overgrown workforce and cutting costs, the future of not only the shipbuilders but also the whole economy will be in jeopardy.”