Hyundai Heavy at loggerheads with trade union, braces for more strikes

Just as it is getting back on track, nailing new orders, the world’s largest shipbuilder finds itself at a risky impasse with its notoriously militant labour union.

Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) and its union are disputing current market conditions as employees fight to preserve their pay packages.

HHI has been downsizing in dramatic fashion of late, shuttering a whole yard in Gunsan, mothballing a couple of drydocks at its main site in Ulsan and letting go of thousands of workers, while warning of further pay cuts to its remaining staff.

HHI’s union recently claimed the company received orders for 62 vessels totalling $3.8bn from January to May, five times more compared to the same period last year. Given this solid start to the year, the union are dismissing HHI’s gloomy projections for the second half and the needs to remain fiscally tight.

HHI, however, has pointed out that the 62 orders are not just at HHI’s Ulsan HQ, but are spread across sister companies, Hyundai Mipo and Hyundai Samho, with HHI only accounting for 17 of the contracts signed in the first five months.

HHI was hit by a strike this February, and in the past fortnight its union has hinted that further industrial action could be on the cards unless the shipbuilder relents on its austerity measures.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.
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