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IndustriALL Hyundai/Kia trade union network – a platform for global solidarity

8 June, 2021When the IndustriALL Hyundai/Kia trade union network met on 17-18 May, the question if ILO core labour standards will ultimately lead to transnational social dialogue at the Korean automaker was discussed.

The list of ILO member states that have yet to ratify ILO core labour standards is not too long, but contains a number of prominent countries like China, India, Iran, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, USA. The highly industrialized Republic of Korea is no longer on that blacklistas it has recently ratified Conventions 29 (forced labour), 87 (freedom of association) and 98 (right to collective bargaining), which will enter into force in April 2022.

Kim Ho Gyu, president of IndustriALL affiliate the Korean Metal Workers' Union (KMWU), said:

“The ratified conventions are important legal guideposts for a comprehensive labour law reform to end union busting, to bring law and practice in line with freedom of association and to guarantee union rights for industry-level unions.”

The global Hyundai/Kia network exists since 2009 and has constantly supported the implementation of these basic rights in all factories of the group around the globe. In addition, IndustriALL affiliates from Brazil, Czech Republic, Germany, India, Korea, Slovakia, Turkey and the USA have made several unsuccessful attempts to convince the company to enter into negotiations on a global framework agreement to promote those fundamental rights and to open a channel of regular communication between the unions and the company at global level.

The network is hoping that Korea’s ratification of ILO conventions will have a positive impact on relations with the world’s fifth largest automotive group. Kim Yunsam and Choi Sun from the KMWU branch unions at Hyundai and Kia concluded that:

“Based on the fact that 70 per cent of the company’s business activities take place outside Korea, it is not only desirable but also logical to come up with high universal labour standards and a formal structure of social dialogue at global level.”

Delegates decided to deepen cooperation by improving the network’s internal database, aiming to strengthen their bargaining power and to identify cases of blatant injustice, like the high number of low paid trainees and other precarious workers in the Hyundai plant in Chennai, India.

“It is high time to end the exploitation of more than half of the Indian workforce earning less than 20 per cent of permanent workers,”

said Gowri Shankar, general secretary of Hyundai motors india employees union.

For more frequent contacts, a platform will be created enabling and promoting regular dialogue.

Participants used the meeting for an expert discussion on systems of pre-determined time standards, in particularly MODAPTS. Colleagues familiarized themselves with the overall concept and exchanged on related trade union responses.

“Such systems seem to be applied to transform human beings into robots. By understanding the system, we can significantly improve our bargaining power,”

said Patrik Fupšo, chairman of OS KOVO union at the Hyundai plant, Czech Republic.

Attendees debated the company’s strategy to develop into a mobility provider, including aspects like digitalization and electric vehicles. Based on calculations, they analyzed the labour impact of that policy in the Korean operations and concluded that it would be important to exchange on good practices to ensure the transformation is managed in a socially responsible way protecting the employability of the existing work force.

Georg Leutert, IndustriALL automotive director, stated:

“The major challenge is to manage the process of re- and upskilling to make sure no worker is left behind.”

IndustriALL and affiliates thanked the Friedrich-Ebert Foundation for their important support at this meeting and in the past.