Hyundai Heavy Industries Workers to Strike Over Wages

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Published Oct 23, 2019 7:46 PM by The Maritime Executive

"Big Three" shipbuilder Hyundai Heavy Industries is emerging from the downturn of the past several years, and its union is planning a partial strike Thursday and Friday in hopes of securing a long-awaited wage increase. 

Since May, HHI's union has been negotiating for a base monthly salary increase of $100 and a large percentage performance bonus. However, after 21 rounds of talks, there is still a stark divide between its bargaining position and that of HHI's managers. On Thursday, workers will down tools for four hours, followed by a seven-hour stoppage on Friday. 

According to Yonhap, Hyundai Heavy Industries booked newbuild orders worth about $2.2 billion through the end of August - barely more than a quarter of its full-year target of $8 billion. Last year, it exceeded a more ambitious sales target of $13.2 billion.

Wages aren't the only source of friction between HHI and its employees. The union also objects to the proposed merger between HHI and domestic competitor Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering (DSME), fearing that DSME's significant debt burden and the consolidation of operations will lead to job losses. HHI's workers mounted a series of strikes in May to protest the proposal, but they failed to convince shareholders to vote against the deal. 

Merger proponents say that a combination of DSME and HHI would be better-positioned to compete with Chinese rivals, notably state-owned conglomerates CSSC and CSIC, which also recently announced their intention to merge. Taken together, these two Chinese companies have annual revenues of more than $75 billion - more than the total for all of Korea's "Big Three" shipbuilders combined.