Hyundai workers strike as land deal fuels wage row

Some 40,000 Hyundai workers have launched a partial strike over a wage row fuelled by union anger at the South Korean carmaker’s $10 billion bid for a plot of land in Seoul.

Workers at the main Hyundai plant in the southern city of Ulsan and others across the country walked off their jobs for two hours on Tuesday and Wednesday, a union spokesman said.

“We plan to extend it to four hours beginning Thursday,” the spokesman told AFP.

The partial strike — the second in a month — came amid stalled negotiations over whether regular bonuses should be considered part of the basic wage that is used to calculate rates for overtime, holiday shifts and pensions.

The company says incorporating bonuses in the calculations would inflate its wage bill by 10 percent.

In late August unions at Hyundai and its smaller affiliate Kia staged partial strikes for two days after several rounds of talks with the management made little progress.

The standoff coincided with news that Hyundai had bid $10 billion for a plot in Seoul’s upscale Gangnam district where it intends to build a new headquarters.

The 79,345 square metre (19.6 acre) plot was initially valued at around 3.3 trillion won ($3.0 billion), but Hyundai went way beyond that, bidding 10.5 trillion won, or around $126,000 per square metre.

“The management has kept saying they don’t have enough money while opposing the wage reform,” the union said in a statement.

“But look how much money they have for this property deal!”

Hyundai, along with Kia, is the world’s fifth-largest automaker.

The strikes in August and the workers’ refusal to work overtime have cost Hyundai some 32,000 cars in lost production and 700 billion won ($673 million) in sales, Yonhap news agency said, citing a Hyundai official.