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Home News HMM seafarers to picket in Busan, notwithstanding salary negotiations

HMM seafarers to picket in Busan, notwithstanding salary negotiations

While union leaders representing HMM’s seafarers and office staff continue to negotiate with the management for higher salary increments, the seafarers are going ahead with a picket protest with Busan.

At 14:00 Seoul time today (1 September), Kim Jin-man and Jang Jong-geum, the heads of the unions representing shore-based employees and seafarers respectively, began talks with HMM president Bae Jae-hoon.

On 22 August, the seafaring union held a vote to decide on a strike and of the 450 members who came, more than 92% chose to strike. HMM’s Swiss-Italian rival, MSC is attempting to poach the South Korean carrier’s crew with salaries that are 2.5 times what the latter is paying, and 317 of HMM’s seafarers have submitted their resignation letters to the union.

Desperate to avoid a strike that could cause US$580 million in losses, HMM’s management pressed the seafaring union to resume discussions. The strike was initially set for 25 August and the mass resignation was postponed while the talks continued.

However, on 31 August, 98% of its 755 unionised office staff voted to strike, creating another manpower crisis as they have planned to strike together with the seafarers. It would be the first such industrial action since HMM was established in 1976.

HMM’s seafaring and office staff want salaries to be raised by 25% and are reportedly dismayed that salaries went up by just 2% in 2020, after wages were frozen between 2011 and 2019, due to the company’s poor performance in those years.

HMM’s management has offered an 8% increment, a bonus amounting to 300% of their wages and a 200% productivity incentive in 2022, but the seafarers have declined. Apparently, HMM’s major shareholder, state policy lender Korea Development Bank is reluctant to increase salaries substantially after swapping debt for equity.

An HMM spokesman told Container News, “What’s certain is that both sides are aiming for negotiations, not for a strike. Talks will continue.”

Nevertheless, from 20:00 Seoul time (1 September), four-hour protests will start on the 8,566TEU Hyundai Brave and the 23,000TEU HMM Rotterdam. The seafarers will continue with their protest from 10:00 to 18:00 Seoul time tomorrow (2 September), on the 24,000TEU HMM Gdansk.

South Korea bans industrial action on ships in operation, so the seafarers can only protest on anchored vessels.

The seafarers have also alleged that HMM did not comply with the rest time stipulated under the Maritime Labour Convention and plan to voice their grievances to the Ministry of Employment and Labor.

Their union said, “Seafarers are supposed to work a maximum of 313 hours per month, including overtime, is allowed, but some employees work over 320 hours and do not receive any pay or rest. After working for 12 months, I take a break for two to three weeks and work like a machine that has to get back on the ship.”

Martina Li
Asia Correspondent

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