IndustriALL joins with Ssangyong workers in demand for justice

10.10.2012

In 2009 the South Korean government shocked the international community by its use of lethal force against the Ssangyong Motor workers. At the time, the workers were in a 77-day sit-down strike calling for negotiations on work-sharing measures to avoid mass dismissals.

Water, electricity and access to food and medicine were cut off as riot police and private security forces surrounded the plant. Riot police forces attacked the striking workers with electroshock weapons and police helicopters dropped corrosive chemical agents on the striking workers, while blocking access to water to clean chemical burns and to drink. 

It is an outrage to discover the mass dismissals may have been illegal in the first place. 

Ssangyong Motor appears to have doctored its accounts to inflate its debt ratio of 187 percent into 561 percent. The company’s claims of urgent business exigencies to justify the mass dismissal of 2,646 workers were apparently based on dishonest claims, if not business fraud. Suspect grounds for the restructuring have been found to be true in the recent parliamentary hearing of the Korean government.

It is scandalous that despite the passage of three years, not a single worker has been recalled, and yet, the death toll continues to rise.

The Ssangyong Motor workers and their families affected by the mass dismissals suffer extreme financial duress, provisional seizure of workers’ homes and bank accounts to pay the employer and its insurance company for strike “damages,” and blacklisting from future employment. This has led to 23 deaths by suicide and stress-related disorders. 

The responsibility of the government is clear. Leaders from major unions in 81 countries around the world, under the banner of IndustriALL, including some 1850 union members of the United Auto Workers in the United States have signed petitions calling for an urgent resolution of the Ssangyong Motor case before a 23rd victim is taken. 

However, before the voice of the international community could be conveyed, we were appalled and saddened to receive word that another, the 23rd person has died. South Korea may grow as an economic power; however, it is unlikely to earn global respect without demonstrating it can deal with human and labor rights issues in a fair and humane way. 

We urge the South Korean government to: 

  • Carry out a full transparent parliamentary investigation into state affairs to bring to light the truth regarding the Ssangyong Motor doctoring of accounts and mass dismissals. 
  • Apologize for the brutal use of state violence during the 77-day strike in 2009 and punish those responsible. 
  • Apologize for the 23 deaths and reinstate all the dismissed Ssangyong Motor workers. 
  • Stop labor repression, such as the damages claims suits and provisional seizure of workers assets and other harassment against the workers.
  • Implement concrete initiatives based on the investigation to ensure a situation like Ssangyong Motor never happens again.

Supporting organizations:

IndustriALL Global Union

Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU)

United Auto Workers (UAW)

Korean Metal Workers’ Union (KMWU)