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Workers at South Korea's Hyundai Motor begin partial strike
SEOUL, South Korea -- Workers at Hyundai Motor Co., South Korea's biggest automaker, walked off the job Thursday to start a partial strike for higher wages, better working conditions and more say in management decisions.

Workers at Hyundai's three domestic factories began a two-hour afternoon walkout and would do so again on the night shift, said a company spokesman, William Park. The union also planned to strike for a total of 12 hours over two shifts Friday.

After failing to reach an agreement in a meeting with management earlier Thursday, the union said it would extend the strike, with workers planning to lay down their tools for two to six hours a day next week starting Monday.

The union said it would work to reach an agreement with the company before the start of the country's annual autumn harvest holidays in mid-September.

"But it entirely depends on the company's attitude," the union's Web site said.

Hyundai, which aims to become the world's sixth-largest car maker along with its affiliate Kia Motors Corp. by 2010, now has a worldwide production capacity of 2.65 million vehicles a year. More than 70 percent are made in South Korea.

Park said Hyundai estimates production losses at 8,403 vehicles during the partial strike Thursday and Friday.

Hyundai has 10 days of inventory, or about 25,000 vehicles, said company spokesman Jake Jang. That's less than the normal level of two weeks, or 35,000 vehicles, because of recent "brisk sales," Jang said.

"We don't think it's a good time to go on strike -- losing sales which are critical for Hyundai to move forward, especially at the time domestic sales are picking up," Jang said. "We hope this will end soon."

In June, the labor union demanded an 8.48 percent increase in basic wages, incentive payments equivalent to 30 percent of Hyundai's net income and shorter working hours.

The union, fearing job losses, has also asked management to consult with it about the carmaker's overseas operations, including expansions in output and moving production lines overseas.

Hyundai has four overseas plants -- in Turkey, India, China and the United States. The U.S. plant, located in Montgomery, Alabama, began production in May.

About 70 percent of Hyundai's 42,521-member union voted late Tuesday in favor of a strike.

Last year, Hyundai's union staged a five-day walkout between late June and early July, costing the company about 263.1 billion (US$257 million) in production losses.

Separately, the labor union at Kia Motors planned to vote on a strike Friday. (AP)

August 25, 2005
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