South Korea hit by fresh wave of labour unrest

SEOUL: South Korea faced a new wave of labour unrest yesterday, hot on the heels of a four-day rail strike, as workers downed tools at the country's top car maker and about 180 other firms. 

Labour troubles have cast a cloud over South Korea and analysts have trimmed 2003 growth forecasts for its economy, widely seen having entered into its first recession in five years in the first half of this year. 

“Almost all of our member unions have started the strike as planned, although unions at one or two companies cancelled their plans after their negotiations with the management were settled,” Kim Ho-gyu, general secretary of the Korea Metal Workers Federation, said.  

Workers are striking for more pay and better working conditions. 

Kim did not name those companies where negotiations were settled but denied talk in financial markets that the union at Hyundai Motor Co, the country's top auto maker, had decided not to join the industrial action. 

A public relations official at Hyundai, which has a history of labour stoppages, said union members would down tools for eight hours. 

The union called for a four-hour strike, but some of its member branches – including Hyundai and sports utility vehicle maker Ssangyong Motor Co – plan walkouts for eight hours. 

The chief spokesman for the Labour Ministry said the government had no specific comment on yesterday's industrial action. 

The government of President Roh Moo-hyun gained some relief on Tuesday when railway workers voted to end a strike that crippled the network and prompted the administration to take a tougher line on labour unrest. 

The union said 90,000 of its 162,000 members were participating in the strike action, while 5,000 workers were expected to stage a rally here.  

The labour unrest has emerged as an additional pressure for South Korea's economy, the fourth-largest in Asia, which already faces falling domestic spending and lingering investor concerns over a crisis involving North Korea's nuclear programme. 

Foreign investors see labour inflexibility as the main hurdle to doing business in an export-driven South Korean economy. – Reuters  

  • Another perspective from The Korea Herald, a partner of Asia News Network.

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