SsangYong agrees to reinstate dismissed workers 9 years after layoffs

Posted on : 2018-09-15 15:24 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Total of 119 employees to be reinstated
Choi Jong-sik
Choi Jong-sik

Visitors began arriving singly and in groups on the morning of Sept. 14 to the memorial site set up in front of Daehan Gate at Seoul’s Deoksu Palace for 30 dismissed SsangYong Motor workers and family members who passed away throughout the last nine years. They were there to celebrate an agreement to reinstate dismissed employees of the automaker nine years after its 2009 layoffs.

Laughing and weeping, the visitors embraced another – fellow workers, religious followers, and civic and social group activists who had battled alongside the layoff victims. Korean Metal Workers’ Union (KMWU) SsangYong chapter head Kim Deuk-joong embraced and thanked members of the gathered group.

“We have passed through a long night to arrive here today,” he declared.

That morning, the SsangYong Motor labor and management (including the company union, the KMWU SsangYong chapter, and SsangYong management) held a press conference at the Economic, Social and Labor Council (ESLC) headquarters to announce their Sept. 13 agreement on the reinstatement of all dismissed workers. The reinstatement applies to a total of 119 people.

 president of SsangYong Motor
president of SsangYong Motor

Participants in the agreement included SsangYong union president Hong Bong-seok, KMWU SsangYong chapter head Kim Deuk-joong, SsangYong president Choi Jong-sik, and ESLC chairman Moon Sung-hyun.

The agreement to reinstate dismissed SsangYong workers was not actually the first. In 2015, labor and management agreed on a step-by-step reinstatement for dismissed workers. But whereas that plan fizzled out after the failure to set a timeline for the reinstatement, the latest agreement included specifics on the reinstatement procedures and dates.

To begin with, the agreement states that the company is to reinstate 60 percent of the 119 individuals by the end of this year and the remainder within the first half of 2019. Labor and management also agreed to have the reinstated workers’ department assignments completed by the first half of next year, or the second half at the latest.

“We needed to agree on a concrete date for reinstatement to stop more workers from dying,” Kim Deuk-joong explained on the reasons behind the agreement.

KMWU SsangYong chapter to suspend demonstrations and sit-ins

In return, the KMWU SsangYong chapter began suspending its demonstrations and sit-ins in connection with the layoffs the same day. It also plans to remove related facilities and banners and stop filing civil and criminal suits over the layoffs. The ESLC, which organized the negotiations, plans to provide support to reduce the burden of the reinstatement for the company based on discussions with related ministries, including the establishment of a “SsangYong Motor shared growth and development committee.”

With a full reinstatement agreement reached after nine years, the workers who had been let go were finally able to voice hopes for a new life.

“It was really miserable and humiliating watching my colleagues being reinstatement before me,” said Kwak Seong-won, a 44-year-old worker who lost his job in the layoffs.

“Once I’m reinstated, I look forward to having some more freedom psychologically and economically and a harmonious family life,” he said.

Seo Jin-cheol, 47, has been working as a day laborer in construction since the layoffs.

“If I had known before that the struggle would last over nine years, I don’t think I could have gotten through it,” he said.

“I hope to be a proper breadwinner now and take my family on an exciting trip,” he added.

Commenting on the labor-management agreement, Kim Deuk-joong said, “I don’t really remember the past nine years. I’ve spent every moment thinking about how to get the word out about the SsangYong layoff issue.”

“It may not be the best possible agreement, but I think it’s the best result for what we’ve been through,” he added.

Kim has carried out four hunger strikes to demand the full reinstatement of dismissed SsangYong workers. Last year, he traveled to India – home of the Mahindra Group, SsangYong Motor’s majority shareholder – for 53 days as part of the battle.

 SsangYong union president Hong Bong-seok
SsangYong union president Hong Bong-seok

Agreement came at the cost of several lives

After the press conference, Kim went with other SsangYong chapter officials to the Daehan Gate memorial site to lay a copy of the agreement before the funeral portraits of the 30 dismissed workers and family members who have lost their lives since the 2009 layoffs. It was for similar reasons that he could not simply smile about having the reinstatement agreement in hand – the scars of the nine-year battle have yet to fully heal.

“It makes me feel sorry to think this agreement might have come in exchange for our comrade Kim Ju-joong’s life,” said Kim Seon-dong, head of the KMWU SsangYong chapter’s organization office.

“We want to properly implement the agreement and resolve the remaining issues, if only to honor Kim Ju-joong’s wishes,” he added.

On June 27, dismissed SsangYong worker Kim Ju-joong took his own life after suffering for many years from trauma related to the layoffs. He was the 30th of the “SsangYong victims” to date.

 ESLC chairman Moon Sung-hyun
ESLC chairman Moon Sung-hyun

The KMWU SsangYong chapter referred to the agreement as “a beginning rather than an ending.” No investigation has yet taken place on the Aug. 2009 suppression of a strike at SsangYong Motor, nor has the state given the official apology for it that the chapter has demanded. The demand by police for 1.6 billion won (US$1.4 million) in damages from the chapter for damage to a helicopter during the suppression remains in place.

While the chapter may be halting its layoff-related sit-ins as per the agreement, it plans to postpone dismantling the memorial site at Daehan Gate – insisting it has “issues that remain to be resolved with the state.”

By Lee Ji-hae, staff reporter

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