The government is set to take stern action on an auto and metal industry workers' strike against a free trade agreement with United States due next week and which officials regard as an illegal walkout over a political issue.
Leading business organizations also called on Korean Metal Workers' Union to withdraw the plan that they claim would seriously damage the industry and the national economy.
The 143,000-member KMWU and its key member, Hyundai Motor Co.'s labor union, on Tuesday pledged to go ahead with their plan to stage a partial walkout from Monday to Friday.
The government vowed to sternly deal with any illegal protest by workers against the free trade agreement.
It also plans to issue a joint statement of related ministries today, calling on the metal workers' union to withdraw the walkout plan. The statement by the ministries of labor; justice; and commerce, industry and energy is expected to convey the government's firm stance on illegal protests involving a political issue unrelated to interest with union members.
The union also has not conducted a vote on the planned strike, officials noted.
But Hyundai union leader Lee Sang-wook countered Tuesday that the members of the metal industry union voted last year to approve its collective action against the FTA and it is still effective. Hyundai Motor union has to abide by its parent organization's decision, he said.
"We will participate in the strike as planned," Lee told reporters in Ulsan, where the nation's largest automaker's main plant is located.
He further noted that the union would join future strikes as well, should there be more.
The KMWU yesterday proposed an open debate with President Roh Moo-hyun on the trade agreement.
Unionized workers have been voicing concerns over the recent trade deal with the United States, saying it could threaten their job security and weaken the Korean auto industry.
They also urged the management at four major automakers to accept the workers' demand for the legalization of industry-level negotiations, which will increase their bargaining power as a group.
Meanwhile, civic organizations and business groups are also calling for the withdrawal of anti-FTA strikes, expressing concerns that the strikes will put a damper on the momentum for economic recovery.
Major business lobbies including the Korea Chamber of Commerce & Industry and the Federation of Korean Industries separately released yesterday a statement against the labor movement.
The KCCI, the nation's largest private economic organization, denounced the metal union for "organizing an illegal political strike without even putting the issue to the vote among members." It also added that the union is ignoring the public anticipation for a renewed labor-management relationship based on coexistence and cooperation.
The FKI harshly criticized the strike in its statement, asking the union leaders why and for whom they want to go on a strike "without the support of union members."
An umbrella organization of over 140 civic groups in Ulsan threatened to hold massive protest rallies, as part of its effort to stop the Hyundai Motor Union from taking part in the strike.
Lee Doo-cheol, head of the organization, and 16 others visited the Seoul office of the KMWU yesterday to deliver a letter of protest, calling on the union to abandon their walkout plan.
They said in the letter that the walkout, irrelevant to the rights of workers, cannot be accepted, saying the union should focus on boosting business competitiveness by improving product quality and productivity.
By Ahn Hyo-lim