Union Occupies Crane at Hyundai Shipyard Calling for New Contract

strike Hyundai shipyard Korea
Union members occupied a crane to call attention to their contract demands (file photo)

Published Jul 7, 2021 4:45 PM by The Maritime Executive

After two years of contract negotiations and two rejected tentative agreements, the union represented about two-thirds of the workers at one of Hyundai Heavy Industries’ shipyards went on strike Tuesday evening, July 6, calling for renewed negotiations. The strike, which is the first in over two years, is scheduled to last for two days but so far it is not impacting production work.

In a high-profile demonstration to draw attention to their lack of a contract, 10 union members, including the head of the union, climbed one of the shipyard’s large gantry cranes rising more than 130 feet above the yard in Ulsan, South Korea. The BusinessKorea news outlet reports it is the first time in 17 years that union members occupied one of the cranes.

Contract talks began in May 2019 focusing on wage and benefit increases for the yard’s more than 9,000 union members. The yard has a total workforce of approximately 14,000 people. BusinessKorea reports that an initial agreement for wage increases, performance-based bonus, and other incentive payments, was reached in February 2021, but later rejected by the union members. A second agreement in April 2021 improved the bonuses, but was again rejected by the union members.

A large group of workers rallied around the occupied crane in support of the union’s call from new negotiations. The union is demanding increases in the base salary. The shipyard said that after two failed agreements, it wanted the union to reach a consensus among its members before resuming talks.

The labor problems come as the shipyard group is reporting a strong first half of 2021 increasing its order backlog. Korea Shipbuilding & Offshore Engineering, the parent company for the company’s three yards, including Ulsan, reported that it reached 94 percent of its goal for 2021 orders during the first six months of the year. KSOE said combined the three yards received orders for 156 ships valued at nearly $14 billion. The company said the shipbuilding operation is highly likely to exceed this year’s order goal of just under $15 billion.