Hyundai Motor’s union to provide aid to North Korea despite looming strike


The labor union of Hyundai Motor Co. decided to provide aid to North Korea to help a South Korean humanitarian group expand a corn-noodle plant in North Korea, union officials said Wednesday, despite the union’s steps to stage a possible strike next week.

The workers at Hyundai, South Korea’s largest automaker, are scheduled to vote Thursday on whether to launch a walkout over higher wages and better working conditions, almost an annual ritual for the 44,000-strong union.

In a statement, the union said it will provide the aid worth 500 million won (US$530,786), including noodle-processing machines, a minibus, a truck and a power generator, to the corn-noodle plant in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang.

The aid will be provided via the Seoul-based humanitarian group Movement for One Korea, an official at Hyundai’s union said by telephone from Ulsan, a port city on the nation’s southeast coast where Hyundai’s main plant is located.

“We decided to provide the aid to help North Korea recover from its food shortage and to implement the union’s corporate social responsibility,” said the official, refusing to give his name.

The timing and other details have yet to be decided, he said.

It is the first time that a union of a private company has decided to give aid to North Korea.

The North has had to rely on international humanitarian aid for the past decade, due to floods, drought and economic mismanagement.

Earlier in the day, conservative newspapers questioned the Hyundai union’s rationale, criticizing it for deciding to give aid to the North as the strike looms.

“It’s an inappropriate time for Hyundai Motor’s union to do this as public criticism is mounting over its 13th consecutive annual strike,” Bae Son-geun, a professor at Korea University, was quoted as saying by the daily Dong-a Ilbo.

Hyundai and its union have had 10 sessions of formal negotiations. The union is demanding an 8.9 percent increase in monthly basic salary, after rejecting the company’s offer of a 5.4 percent rise.

The strike vote will be held on Friday and the outcome is to be announced later in the day or early Saturday, union officials said.

So far this year, Hyundai workers staged a 13-day partial strike over a bonus dispute and a proposed free trade agreement with the United States which they argued could hurt the livelihoods of farmers and factory workers.

Hyundai’s union has held walkouts every year except 1994 since its foundation in 1987. In the past 20 years, the union has gone on strike for 313 days, costing the company 8.94 trillion won (US$9.53 billion) in total lost sales, according to the automaker.


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