Unions wield increasing influence at tech firms

Samsung Display’s campus in Asan, South Chungcheong Province / Yonhap

By Kim Bo-eun

Unions are exercising growing influence at tech firms amid an industry-wide movement by workers seeking better compensation.

The wave of calls for better compensation was triggered by demands early this year by unions of major firms in the tech sector, such as SK hynix, SK Telecom and Naver. Employees have contended that they deserve better pay given their companies’ sharp growth in earnings.

Samsung Display, for instance, is facing a possible walkout by workers due to wage issues. The union at Samsung affiliate succeeded in winning majority support for a possible strike, based on a recent survey whose results were unveiled Saturday. Among the union members, 71.8 percent agreed to take action.

“The reason behind the overwhelming support for collective action is due to complaints against the management which has not been communicating with employees,” the union said in a statement.

The conflict centers on the union’s calls for better compensation. The union has been calling for a 6.8 percent wage hike as well as risk allowances offered to employees who are involved in hazardous duties. But the management has maintained that it cannot raise the wage growth rate above the 4.5 percent that was agreed upon by a labor-management council.

“The documents that were exchanged at the wage negotiations held eight times over the past three months showed poor conditions that are not on par with Samsung Display as the world-class company it claims to be,” a union member stated at a protest at Samsung’s headquarters in southern Seoul on May 6.

The union has asked a labor ministry committee to intervene in the dispute. The committee seeks to help resolve the dispute, but can suspend its mediation if differences between labor and management appear difficult to narrow. This enables the union to stage a legal strike.

The display maker’s 2,300-member union was launched in February 2020. If it decides to go on strike, it would be the first collective action taken by the union since its inception.

Meanwhile, office workers at SK hynix have taken legal action against the company over its performance-assessment system. The workers are part of a separate union representing clerical workers. They claim that they were excluded from negotiations that took place to introduce the system, which they state is disadvantageous for them.

The controversy that escalated at SK hynix earlier in the year over bonuses led to SK Chairman Chey Tae-won to returning his 3 billion won salary he received from the chip making affiliate last year. SK hynix also provided perks, such as cash equivalents and company shares to employees. SK Telecom and Naver’s management also rushed to take similar measures after unions demanded better compensation.


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