Find solution to strife through dialogue, consensus
Subcontracted workers of Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering (DSME) have been staging a sit-down strike for 44 days as of Friday. They are occupying a very large crude oil carrier now under construction in the world's biggest dockyard ― Okpo Shipyard ― in Geoje, South Gyeongsang Province. They are members of the Metal Workers' Union under the umbrella of the militant Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU).
Defining the strike as illegal, the government Thursday urged the unionized workers to stop the walkout immediately. In a statement, Employment and Labor Minister Lee Jung-sik said, "The walkout has been causing enormous damage to the employees of DSME and related companies." Minister of Trade, Industry and Energy Lee Chang-yang claimed DSME has suffered 570 billion won ($432.2 million) in losses due to the strike. In addition, he said, daily revenue losses amounted to 25.9 billion won paired with 5.7 billion won in fixed costs.
They expressed concern that the strike will lead to a downgrading of the external credit rating of the shipbuilding industry due to possible delays in the delivery of vessels, despite recent signs of a recovery in the shipbuilding sector. Against this backdrop, employees of DSME and affiliates are holding rallies and events calling for the normalization of production. Even DSME's branch union of the KCTU called on the unionized workers to halt their occupation of the dock.
Yet, on the other hand, KCTU and some 40 liberal civic organizations are poised to muster support for the protesting workers. The workers are demanding direct negotiations with prime contractor DSME and its major shareholder Korea Development Bank (KDB). But this is inappropriate as they belong to a partner company. Given this, it is also improper for them to undermine the operation of DSME and deal a blow to the national economy in a bid to push for their demand.
More than 10 trillion won of public funds were poured into DSME to keep the insolvent firm afloat amid sluggish business over the past several years. It suffered 1.75 trillion won in net losses last year and 470 billion won in operating shortfall in the first quarter of this year. Since efforts to sell the shipbuilder failed last year, DSME has been struggling to stay alive. The unionized workers should refrain from worsening the situation for the sake of the desperate DSME employees.
The right to hold strikes should be guaranteed under the labor law. Yet, any walkouts out of the legal boundaries should not be permitted under any circumstances. The workers should no longer employ unlawful means. The relevant parties should double down on efforts to find a solution to the strife.
The union members have been suffering from drastic wage cuts and massive layoffs over the past five years due to the lackluster shipbuilding businesses. Their difficulties should be taken into account in the process of finding a compromise. It is time for the relevant parties to begin full-fledged dialogue to terminate the strike as soon as possible and find a mutually viable solution.