Workers take to the streets to protest at the death of yet another colleague. October 2015. Photo: KMWU

The local HHI subcontractors' union is also demanding that HHI take responsibility for paying unpaid wages by subcontracting companies.

One worker a month dying at world’s biggest shipbuilder


Trade unionists from Korea will be at the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights in Geneva from 16 – 18 November to sound the alarm on a growing number of fatalities at the world’s biggest shipbuilder, Hyundai Heavy Industries Group (HHI).

A total of 16 workers have died in 15 separate incidents from the period March 2014 until October 2015, equaling almost one person a month. 

Local activists will also join the Korean trade unionists at a protest rally and ritual to commemorate the fatalities, taking place at the Broken Chair, Place des Nations at 1pm on Tuesday 17 November.

Workers have been crushed to death, drowned after falling into the sea, and have even been choked to death by their own equipment.

All the workers who died were employed by subcontractors, reflecting HHI’s ‘risk-outsourcing’ policy.

HHI refuses to take responsibility for the deaths of the contract workers even though the workers and their tasks were clearly under the control of HHI.

Paradoxically, HHI’s contributions to industrial accident insurance have reduced by almost US$ 87 million over the past five years because those who perished were working at HHI’s subcontractors, and not directly for HHI.

“HHI is abusing such a loophole to avoid legal responsibility, but it cannot avoid moral responsibility,” said Chang-min Ha, chairman of the Hyundai Heavy Subcontractor Workers’ Local trade union, which represents subcontracted workers working at HHI shipyards and its subsidiaries. “Only Hyundai can improve the working conditions in their own yards.”

The delegation, which includes members of the local HHI subcontractors union, will be at the UN Forum to raise HHI’s appalling health and safety record and to urge business to recognize their responsibility as buyers to protect the human rights of workers in global supply chains, particularly subcontractors.

The delegation will also meet with the Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, Lee Sung-ho who is speaking at the UN Forum.

HHI subcontractors union is affiliated to IndustriALL through the Korean Metal Workers’ Union (KMWU). KMWU plans to file an official complaint with the Commission outlining HHI’s dangerous working conditions and violations of trade union rights.

HHI refuses to recognize the local subcontractors union and actively tries to undermine the union’s legitimate activities. This includes getting subcontractors to fire and blacklist union activists to prevent them from getting jobs at other subcontractors, and causing subcontractors to close where the union is strong.

Although Korean courts have ruled that HHI has committed unfair labour practices and must take responsibility for the subcontracted workers’ working conditions, the Korean government has turned a blind eye and the abuse continues.

HHI is one the largest chaebols in Korea, the all-powerful multinational conglomerates that dominate the country. Controlling shareholder and ex-FIFA Vice President, Chung Mong-joon, has been banned for six years by the world football organization’s ethics committee.

While in Switzerland, the Korean trade union delegation will also seek to meet with major HHI customer, MSC, which is the second-largest container shipping company in the world and headquartered in Geneva.