South Korea’s MBC on strike – joins 1,130 KBS producers

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WORKERS at the South Korean broadcaster MBC go on strike from Monday joining 1,130 KBS producers who stopped working on Thursday.

They are calling for the network’s top management to step down for allegedly influencing news coverage to be in favour of former president Park Geun Hye’s administration. Among the allegations are that MBC workers were forced to cut scenes of Sewol ferry disaster victims’ families sobbing.

Over at MBC, some 400 reporters, TV producers, camera journalists and announcers have been boycotting news production, reported Yonhap News Agency. They are demanding the the resignation of MBC’s chief executive officer Kim Jang Gyeom. The strike will impact entertainment programmes as well.

Popular variety shows Infinite Challenge and I Live Alone are expected to stop airing next week.

A representative of protesting MBC employees said: ‘Infinite Challenge will air as per normal until Friday but so far, we only have filmed material for this week’s broadcast. So next week’s broadcast will not be able to go ahead.’

The strike move comes five years since the broadcasting workers staged a walkout in 2012, in protest against the then-Lee Myung-bak administration’s attempt to control the media. This time the broadcasters are calling for the resignation of managers. The National Union of Media Workers’ KBS branch and KBS’s labour union will begin their strikes on Sunday at midnight and Thursday at midnight, respectively.

KBS’s strike is a resumption of a protest which was temporarily halted in February. The two unions had conducted a vote in November for the strike. The NUMW statement said: ‘This general strike will be the last fight to end nine years of fabrication, forgery, oppression and yielding.’

The protests against the broadcaster escalated after it was found that the company had created a blacklist of video journalists based on news content, and subjected them to disadvantages. Meanwhile, the trade union of Hyundai Heavy Industries, the Korean Metal Workers Union (KMWU), started another round of strikes yesterday after the struggling shipbuilder, facing a shortage of new vessel orders, hinted at the possibility of more job cuts.

The two parties have been in wage negotiations since May last year, but have continually failed to reach a consensus. The company wants workers to take on the burden of a global shortage in shipbuilding orders, but the union has rebuffed the requests and staged walkouts in February and June over the issue.

Last Thursday, the company came to the union with offers of turnaround measures, including laying off some workers, instead of cutting their base pay by 20 per cent as initially proposed, but workers again turned down the offer.

Hyundai Heavy Industries said it would continue negotiating with the union. In a note sent to workers last week Hyundai said: ‘To resolve problems the company is facing, including order shortages and an idle workforce, we will enforce necessary turnaround measures like encouraging workers to use up their paid leave and laying off staff,’

The KMWU called the offer nonsense and said, ‘The company feigned generosity by taking back the suggestion to cut base pay, but it is only trying to justify its turnaround plans to come.’ The company wants to enact the turnaround measures next month. Hyundai claimed: ‘Compared to years before, our order backlog has declined steeply, and we are in dire need of cooperation from our workers,’ a Hyundai spokesperson said. ”Human resource restructuring is inevitable at this point.’

The shipbuilder has already suspended work at its Gunsan Dockyard in North Jeolla in July due to a lack of new orders and halted operations at its two docks in Ulsan last year. The company said the docks will reopen when enough new orders come in, but when that will happen remains uncertain. The temporary closure of the Gunsan Dockyard has already put many of its 5,000 employees out of work.

‘During the first half of the year, Hyundai Heavy Industries reaped net profit worth over 4.5 trillion won, and the company has been recording profit for six straight quarters,’ the union said in a statement, claiming the company is exaggerating its management woes.

The company, though, said the profit was reaped mainly from the company’s turnaround efforts, including laying off workers and selling assets irrelevant to its core businesses. Hyundai Motor Companies union said its new leadership will resume wage talks with the company in November, as no headway has been made after 28 rounds of ‘fruitless’ negotiations.

‘We have decided to suspend wage talks with the company as its revised offerings were not satisfactory at all. Once a new union leader is elected next month a leadership structure should be in place by October, and these people can then handle the wage deal in November,’ a union spokesman said over the phone.

The company confirmed this year’s talks are now suspended and should resume later. The union demands the company raise workers’ basic monthly wages by 154,883 won (about US$140) and offer a bonus of 30 per cent of the company’s full-year net profit earned in 2016. Citing an unfriendly business environment, however, the company had offered to raise basic salaries by 42,879 won per month and offer 200 per cent of basic pay plus 1 million won as a bonus.

As the offer was rejected by the union, the company suggested 250 per cent of basic pay plus 1.5 million won in a revised offer. This year, eight rounds of partial strikes have already cost the company more than 620 billion won in production losses.

The maker of the Sonata sedan and the Santa Fe SUV has suffered production losses resulting from strikes during wage negotiations every year since 2000, except in 2009, 2010 and 2011.

• Irregular women workers – part-time and/or short-term contract workers without job security or benefits – are emerging as the new face of organised labour in South Korea. On June 29 this year, ahead of a nationwide strike called by the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) for an increase in the national minimum wage, tens of thousands of contract workers at public schools walked off their jobs.

They are mostly women who work as carers, cleaners, and cafeteria staff, and they demand regular employment (i.e., full-time with job security and benefits) as well as an increase in wages.

Workers in over three thousand public schools – 27 per cent of public schools nationwide – participated in the walk-out, forcing many schools to cut classes short, according to the South Korean Ministry of Education.

Forty-three per cent of all public school employees are irregular workers, according to the National School Irregular Workers Union, which includes cafeteria and administrative staff, librarians, computer room assistants, carers, as well as special education teachers and counsellors.

The union estimates the total number of irregular public school employees at approximately 400,000 – including 141,965 education support staff, 153,015 teachers, 27,266 dispatch workers, and 42,033 temporary/substitute teachers.