Corea, República de - Hanjin workers on strike for almost a year (2012)

On 9 November, after 11 months of conflict the Korean Metal Workers’ Union (KMWU) and the management of Hanjin Heavy Industries agreed on an end to the dispute about mass dismissals at the Korean shipyard. The provisional deal called for the Hanjin ship maker to reinstate 94 laid-off workers within 12 months. Union leaders reported that they had to end the sit-in protest to evade ‘fine bombs’ which were reportedly expected to be as much as 1 million won per day per member who participated in the protest.
Kim Jin-suk, a member of the executive committee for the Busan office of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) who had staged a sit-in atop a Hanjin crane for 309 days to protest the layoffs, finally came down after the union’s agreement. At the same time, the local Busan District Court dismissed the police’s request for warrants for Kim Jin-suk and three other protesters — two former Hanjin Heavy employees and one regional labour activist who were also accused of leading union members in the strike as well as obstructing business and intrusion.

Workers had taken extensive strike action after the company announced plans to lay off around 400 workers. Although an initial agreement was reached in June, some 100 workers continued protesting including Kim Jin Suk who had earlier refused to call off her protest despite an injunction for her removal and daily fines being levied against her. Hanjin filed a lawsuit against Kim, the KCTU, and the Hanjin trade union requesting 110 million won in damages.

The strike had began in December 2010 because management reportedly violated the local collective bargaining agreement signed on 26 February 2010, which stated that “the company stops, as of today, its mass restructuring redundancy development which started from December 18, 2009.” During the almost year-long strike, workers faced several lock outs and violent police confrontations as well as arrests and overnight occupations. Union members were only able to enter the company premises on negotiation days while some 600 workers were ordered to vacate the factory. In July, around 50 people were arrested and dozens injured after police used water cannons and tear gas to disperse protesters. On 28 August, police used the cannon to disperse 800-supporters while in October, 59 more workers were arrested.

In August, a parliamentary hearing on the Hanjin mass dismissals was organised and called for the chairman of Hanjin to appear before the hearing – the first time in Korean history. The hearing also urged the chair to reconsider the dismissals which he refused. Previously, in 2003, a worker Kim Ju-ik, head of the HHIC chapter of the Korean Metal Workers’ Union (KMWU) had held a protest over similar issues on top of a crane at Hanjin for 129 days until he finally hung himself.

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