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Hyundai and Kia unions call for a global framework agreement

15 April, 2019The Hyundai and Kia trade union network met in Ostrava, Czech Republic, on 8 and 9 April, with participants from Czech Republic, Slovakia, Germany, India, Korea, Brazil and Turkey representing all plants covered by democratic and independent unions.

The meeting, which was opened by the president of host union OS KOVO, Jaroslav Souček, was held in Ostrava because of the importance of the local Hyundai plant.

Participants spoke about relations at Hyundai and Kia plants and suppliers around the world. A common theme was poor relations with the company, with union busting in Germany and Turkey, and local management encouraging workers to compete with plants and unions in other countries.

Hyundai tried stop participation in the meeting. The company refused a visit to the Ostrava plant, and sought to undermine the unions’ trust in each other, by claiming that the Korean unions had send a fake translation of their collective agreement to their Czech colleagues in order to fool them.Brother Ha, Young-Chul, auto director for the Korean Metal Workers’ Union (KMWU), provided background to explain the company’s hostility. Industrial relations in Korea are oppositional, and the KMWU had to fight a long and bitter struggle over many years to win recognition and a collective agreement.

Gowrishankar Sundarajan, general secretary of the Hyundai Motor India Employees’ Union in Chennai joined the meeting by video call and explained that the company had refused to allow the Indian delegation to travel. The biggest issue is the growing use of precarious workers. Of 12,263 workers in production, about 4,000 are independent contractors, and 6,000 are trainees. Only 2,200 workers have a permanent contract and benefit from wage negotiations.

The meeting resolved to seek a global framework agreement (GFA) with the company as a way to build the network and improve conditions across the company’s operations. The KMWU said that it was willing to lead the fight for a GFA, by sacrificing other issues to make it a core demand in their collective bargaining negotiations. Brother Ha said,

“We must make sure that capital doesn’t develop faster than trade union unity.”

Most GFAs are with European companies, because global agreements accord with European social dialogue. Korea has still not ratified four core ILO Conventions, including those related to freedom of association. A GFA with a Korean company would set an important industrial relations precedent in an oppositional environment.IndustriALL Global Union auto director Georg Leutert said:

“This was not an ordinary meeting. The decision to seek a GFA is proof that workers from Hyundai and Kia will stand united and fight for universal rights.

“The KMWU is courageously leading the way in calling for a GFA, which would represent significant progress for union rights in the region.”