By Eva Cheng
Hyundai Motors, South Korea's biggest car producer, failed to reopen its key plant in Ulsan on July 28, due to a protest walkout of 15,000 workers in a bid to save the jobs of 2678 co-workers who were scheduled to be fired on July 31. The workers have occupied the factory compound round the clock since the company's July 20 announcement of its intention to cut those jobs.
Workers on the sacking list could opt for "voluntary retirement" by July 27 and get 10 months of wages plus severance pay, but will otherwise be fired on July 31 with only a 45-day discharge allowance. Despite the superficially enticing carrot, only 983 workers chose to retire. The remainder continued to fight for their jobs along with other Hyundai workers not yet affected.
Another 7500 jobs are still to go before the end of this year, according to Hyundai's plan to sack more than 10,000 in 1998. In fact, another 900 workers had been asked in July to take two years of unpaid leave.
Workers have volunteered to accept wage cuts in order to share jobs around, but Hyundai rejected the offer.
There were daily rallies at Hyundai, Ulsan, since July 20, attracting thousands each day to join another several thousands who camped there day and night.
On July 28, government prosecutors threatened to send troops in to break the occupation, but the news was greeted by 12,000 workers rallying at Ulsan. Close to 3000 riot police were reported to have surrounded the plant, but there were no serious clashes.
Thousands of riot police were deployed again when student activists sought to join a July 29 solidarity action held by metal workers and a July 30 Hyundai workers' rally. According to the July 31 edition of Korean Herald, the July 30 offer from the outlawed Hanchongyon, a coalition of university student councils, was turned down by the Hyundai workers' union.
Hyundai announced it would keep its Ulsan plant closed until August 1.