Workers at Renault Samsung Motors Co., the local unit of French automaker Renault SA., said Monday that they have launched a new trade union to advance the rights of members.
The newly formed labor union consisting of 100 members effectively marks the first time that a union has been set up at the carmaker, which has 5,650 employees. A union was created with nine members in 2009, but it has largely been inactive.
In a news conference, labor leaders said that every effort will be made to recruit workers into the union so it can engage in talks with management to ease the difficult labor conditions and improve welfare.
"The workers representatives committee, that has been company's de facto union, unilaterally agreed to pay raises and measures that would increase labor intensity without properly reflecting the wishes of employees," a spokesman for the union claimed.
He pointed out that Renault Samsung's production capacity has grown to more than 300,000 units per year, but the company has been slow to hire more workers and upgrade its production infrastructure.
"The focus of the new union will be to enhance overall working conditions," the union official said.
The carmaker's union has begun recruiting members mainly from workers at the carmaker's manufacturing plant in Busan, the nation's largest port city, about 450 kilometers southeast of Seoul. Of the total number of employees, about 4,000 are engaged in the production of automobiles.
The launch of the new trade union comes after South Korea adopted a multiple trade union system as of July 1, which permits workers to be represented by more than one labor group in a company.
The Renault Samsung union, which held its first formal meeting in Busan over the weekend, also said that it has joined the Korean Metal Workers' Union (KMWU) so it can enhance it bargaining leverage vis-a-vis management.
The joining of the KMWU makes Renault Samsung, which sold 52,602 vehicles on the domestic market in the January-June period, the last of South Korea's seven automakers to join the umbrella union.
Hyundai Motor Co., Kia Motors Corp., GM Korea Co. and Ssangyong Motor Co. are all members of the large industry-wide union along with Tata Daewoo Commercial Vehicle Co. and Daewoo Bus Corp.
In response to the launch of the trade union, Renault Samsung managers held an emergency meeting to discuss the company's future course of action, although company president Jean-Marie Hurtiger was absent as he is in France at the moment.
Executives said that since more than 90 percent of all employees were currently members of the workers representatives committee, it did not plan to change its negotiation partner in labor-related talks for the foreseeable future.
The committee reached an agreement in early July for a monthly pay raise of 100,200 won (US$92.6), marking the 11th year in a row that annual wage negotiations were settled without a walkout.
"The unexpected creation of the trade union has raised uncertainties, but the company plans to adhere to the country's labor law on this matter," a company executive said. "In order for the new union to represent workers at the negotiating table, it must have at least half of all employees as its member."
The company, meanwhile, is in the process of welcoming Francois Provost as its new president in September after Hurtiger has held the top post for the past five years.