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HMM staves off strike with salary deal

HMM’s management and unions representing the Korean flagship carrier’s seafarers and office staff have hammered out a deal on salaries today, 2 September.

Salaries will be raised by 7.9% and bonuses of up to 650% of monthly salaries will be paid.

After enduring frozen salaries from 2011 to 2019, because of HMM’s poor performance in those years, the employees were disappointed at meager increments of 2% this year, after the company achieved a record profit resulting from Covid-19-related supply chain disruptions.

Staff expected increments of 25% this year but HMM’s largest shareholder, state policy lender Korea Development Bank, was said to have baulked at large salary raises after swapping debt for equity.

Talks between the unions and HMM’s management started on 18 June and collapsed several times despite mediation by the government’s Central Labor Relations Committee as both sides could not narrow their disagreement.

In July, Swiss-Italian liner giant MSC attempted to poach HMM’s seafarers, offering salaries 2.5 times what HMM is paying.

On 22 August, the seafaring union voted to strike three days later and 317 seafarers handed in resignation letters to the union, signalling an intention to join MSC.

On 30 August, HMM’s office staff also voted to strike.

Wanting to avert a strike that could mean a US$580 million loss, HMM’s management pleaded for more talks. While the mass resignation and strike were pushed back, some seafarers held a picket protest on two ships, Hyundai Brave and HMM Rotterdam yesterday (1 September) evening in Busan.

HMM said, “After productive talks and discussions that lasted for about 18 hours, both the management and the unions reached an amicable resolution based on goodwill and mutual understanding.

“To date, there have not been any disruptions to run our service routes and vessel operations. All things currently remain normal.”

However, HMM’s seafarers’ union said that while the compromise fell short of its expectations, it understood the repercussions on the country if industrial action went ahead.

Speaking at a press conference after hammering out the wage deal, Jang Jong-Geum, chairman of HMM’s seafarers union, said that salaries were frozen for nearly a decade, even as the company achieved record earnings in 2020.

He added, “Given the inflation in those years, the increment doesn’t make much of a difference. We asked for a 25% increment, but given what we went through (from 2011 to 2019), this figure should be viewed as a salary normalisation rather than a real raise.”

Martina Li
Asia Correspondent

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