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Workers call off SsangYong strike

2009-08-06 14:54
 The union at crisis-ridden South Korean automaker Ssangyong Motor agreed Thursday to end a long and violent strike after reaching a deal on layoffs in talks with management, a company spokesman said.

The company agreed to keep more workers under the deal, said Lee Won-muk, a Ssangyong spokesman. Ssangyong planned to formally
announce the accord later in the day.

Hundreds of workers have been on strike since mid-May to oppose a company survival plan that cut jobs. Violent clashes with riot police have characterized the more than two-month standoff. Dozens of strikers and police were injured in intensifying clashes this week.

Ssangyong, South Korea's fifth-largest automaker, has been in court-approved bankruptcy protection since February amid falling sales and mounting red ink. Its restructuring plan calls for the shedding of 2 646 workers, or 36% of the work force. Some 1 670 have left the company voluntarily but nearly 1 000 opposed the move.

Occupied paint shop

Troubles deepened in the past two months with hundreds of dismissed workers occupying the factory's paint shop - said to be packed with flammable materials such as thinner - to protest massive layoffs.

Under Thursday's deal, the company agreed to keep 48% of those opposed to the layoffs, up from 40% proposed in an earlier company proposal, Lee said. They will be classified as on leave without pay, he said.

The union, which has insisted on no layoffs, proposed the talks Thursday morning, reportedly saying it had made a "fundamental change" in its position in line with the company's earlier proposal to make fewer layoffs.

Thursday's negotiations came after helicopter-borne police commandos fought a pitched battle with strikers and overran most of the chaotic factory in a series of raids this week to try and crush the debilitating strike.

The dramatic raid and a police ultimatum giving protesters until Thursday to give up apparently put pressure on the hundreds that were holed up in a paint shop at the compound in Pyeongtaek, some 70 kilometres south of Seoul.

The flammable materials inside the paint shop have raised fears of an inferno if there is a full-blown police assault - which seems to have weighed heavily on police willingness to move in.

Union spokesman Lee Chang-kun said this week that a police assault on the paint shop would be deadly.


The unrest has cost Ssangyong over 300 billion won ($245 million) in lost production since it began, according to the company.

An association of auto parts suppliers comprising 600 companies to which Ssangyong owes about 300 billion won, filed a court petition Wednesday calling for the carmaker's liquidation.

Ssangyong, which mostly manufactures light SUVs and a luxury sedan, is majority-owned by Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp., one
of China's largest vehicle manufacturers, though it lost management control amid the bankruptcy protection process.


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