Samsung Electronics unions threaten first-ever strike, impact unclear

Samsung Electronics logo in an office building in Seoul, South Korea, South Korea, October 11, 2017. REUTERS / Kim Hong-Ji

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SEOUL, Feb 16 (Reuters) – Trade unions of Samsung Electronics (005930.KS) have threatened unprecedented strikes with the technology giant if demands for higher pay and better working conditions are not met.

Representatives of the unions held a rally on Wednesday near Samsung’s headquarters in central Seoul after government arbitration failed earlier this week. They call for reducing the pay gap among employees, paying more for vacations and improving health benefits.

“There are many options, one of which is a strike,” said Kim Hang-Yol, head of one of the four unions representing Samsung Electronics workers.

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“We will continue to fight to secure salary negotiations and collective bargaining not only with Samsung Electronics but also with all Samsung affiliate unions.”

Trade union officials sought a direct meeting with the top management of the flagship chip maker and the world’s leading smartphone maker.

The potential impact on the company is unclear, as the largest of the four unions, Samsung’s National Electronics Union, has about 4,500 members, or about 4% of the country’s 114,373 employees.

Union members also fear opposition to the public amid growing dissatisfaction with working conditions and pay inequality.

“We don’t want to hit the chip line. If I were to say we want to stop the chip line that will make us enemies of society,” said Lee Hyun Cook, another union official.

The unions declined to comment on how many of their members were in the chip department.

A statement from Samsung Electronics said: “The company continues to engage in dialogue with the unions and is making every sincere effort to reach an agreement.”

The company, founded in 1969, avoided union membership until the late 2010s. Its leader, Vice President Jay Yu Lee, has since promised to “establish a smart work management culture.”

“South Korea’s culture and economic situation have changed,” said Theung Son, a professor of economics at Yongsei University. “Samsung Electronics, which has not been affected by union activity in the past, has to view unions as partners, while unions may find it difficult to strike because of negative opinions against the decisive reaction of workers.”

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Report by Joyce Lee; Edited by Christina Fincher

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