Unionised workers at South Korea's Hyundai Heavy Industries staged their first walkout in 18 years Thursday as the world's largest shipbuilder reels from a protracted business slump.
The shipyard's union said thousands walked out from a scheduled one hour of extra work after their regular eight-hour shift over pay. It added warned it would consider an all-out strike unless its demands are met.
"After today's walkout, we will step up our action and may launch a strike involving all our members if the company continues to reject our demands," Park Kyung-Soo, a union leader, told AFP.
Hyundai Heavy, which has not suffered any strike action since 1996, estimated that an all-out strike would cost it more that $90 million in production losses.
About 18,000 union members, or 70 percent of the company's total workforce, backed a motion to strike last month after months of marathon pay negotiations with management broke down.
Union demands include a 6.5 percent rise in basic pay and a one-off bonus equal to 10 weeks' wages. It also opposes a new incentive-based annual salary system put forward by the company instead of salaries based on seniority.
Hyundai Heavy argues this is too much at a time when it is already facing mounting losses due to the global economic slowdown and competition from Chinese rivals.
The shipbuilder posted a 1.9 trillion won ($1.7 billion) operating loss in the three months to September, following a 1.1 trillion won deficit in the previous quarter.