South Korean union protests Gen­eral Mo­tors plant clo­sure move, calls it a ‘death sen­tence’

Business World - - WORLD BUSINESS -

SEOUL — Work­ers at a Gen­eral Mo­tors (GM) plant in South Korea that the US au­tomaker plans to close staged a protest on Wed­nes­day, say­ing the de­ci­sion was a “death sen­tence” that had not been dis­cussed with unions.

GM an­nounced on Tues­day it will shut­ter the plant in Gun­san, in South Korea’s south­west, by May and de­cide within weeks on the fate of the re­main­ing three plants in the coun­try.

Union­ized work­ers at the Gun­san plant, which em­ploys 2,000 out of GM’s 16,000-strong South Korean work force, wore red head­bands say­ing “Sol­i­dar­ity, Fight” and held leaflets de­mand­ing the with­drawal of the clo­sure plan, pic­tures from lo­cal me­dia show.

“We can’t ac­cept this. The com­pany in­formed us about the clo­sure plan, not ask­ing for our opin­ion. It was al­ready the end of the dis­cus­sions,” Dang Sunggeun, a se­nior of­fi­cial at the union of GM Korea, GM’s lo­cal arm, told Reuters by phone.

“This is like a death sen­tence no­tice be­fore the Lu­nar New Year hol­i­days.”

Dang said about 1,200 union­ized work­ers from GM Korea joined the protest at the Gun­san factory, a day be­fore the Asian coun­try be­gins lu­nar new year hol­i­days.

US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump on Tues­day used GM’s de­ci­sion to close the plant to launch fresh crit­i­cism of the US- South Korea trade agree­ment.

Af­ter Trump took of­fice, trade ten­sions rose be­tween Wash­ing­ton and its key ally South Korea, with their bi­lat- eral free trade deal now un­der rene­go­ti­a­tion.

Trump re­cently ap­proved tar­iffs on South Korean wash­ing ma­chines, while South Korea has vowed to take coun­ter­mea­sures through the World Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion ( WTO).

South Korea’s trade min­istry said on Wed­nes­day it will also take a dis­pute to WTO against the United States for im­pos­ing high anti-dump­ing du­ties on South Korean steel and trans­form­ers.


As the US car maker is seek­ing to re­vamp its loss- mak­ing Korea op­er­a­tion, GM ex­ec­u­tives have com­plained about South Korea’s rel­a­tively high wages and its strike- prone labour union.

But Dang of GM Korea’s union blamed the com­pany for re­duc­ing out­put, say­ing lower wages were not ac­cept­able.

GM’s move is the lat­est in a se­ries of its steps to put prof­itabil­ity and in­no­va­tion ahead of sales and vol­ume. Since 2015 GM has ex­ited un­prof­itable mar­kets in­clud­ing Europe, Aus­tralia, South Africa and Rus­sia.

A GM Korea of­fi­cial said GM launched on Tues­day a vol­un­tary re­tire­ment plan for all its work­ers in South Korea.

GM’s re­struc­tur­ing plan places South Korean Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in in an un­com­fort­able spot, as he has pledged more new jobs and job se­cu­rity.

South Korea’s strong la­bor unions have weighed on the coun­try’s au­to­mo­bile in­dus­try, which Moon’s ad­min­is­tra­tion views as a chal­lenge, a trade min­istry of­fi­cial said.

“The South Korean auto in­dus­try’s high cost and low pro­duc­tiv­ity has been a deep-rooted is­sue, which can’t be fixed overnight, but we will try to re­solve this is­sue by build­ing trust with the unions and the com­pa­nies,” said the of­fi­cial who asked not to iden­ti­fied.


MEM­BERS of the GM Korea union, a sub­com­mit­tee for Korea Me­tal Work­ers’ Union, hold a meet­ing to de­mand GM Korea with­draw its plan to shut down Gun­san man­u­fac­tur­ing plant in Gun­san, South Korea on Feb. 14.

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