S. Korea auto workers in live-wire protest

Two South Korean auto workers who have staged a protest up an electricity pylon for more than a week said Thursday they would only come down if Hyundai Motor gives thousands of temporary workers full-time status.

By (AFP)

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Published: Thu 25 Oct 2012, 2:28 PM

Last updated: Fri 3 Apr 2015, 1:26 PM

Choi Byung-Seung and Chun Ui-Bong climbed up the 45-metre (147 feet) pylon near the automaker’s plant in the southeastern city of Ulsan on October 17, securing themselves to the structure about halfway up.

“We’ve been sleeping, eating and peeing up here since then,” Cho told AFP on Thursday via his mobile phone.

“We will stay here until our demands that all temporary workers are given full-time status are met,” he said.

The pair — each sitting on a 2.4-square-metre wooden panel tied to the steel tower — subsist on food and water sent by labour union officials and use plastic bags as a toilet.

Choi, a 38-year-old former temporary worker, was fired in 2005 after joining a strike aimed at pressuring Hyundai to give the temps full-time status.

The country’s top automaker, and the world’s fifth-largest with affiliate Kia, has nearly 7,000 temporary workers — who typically receive lower pay and fewer benefits than their full-time counterparts.

After being rebuked by the labour ministry, Hyundai recently promised to switch about 3,000 temporary workers to full-time staff by 2016.

Choi said frustration after years of legal battles and pleas to politicians had prompted him to “take more drastic steps”.

“We’ve tried everything we could for the past eight years and thought now was time to try something else,” he said, adding that the pair would stay in their perch for “weeks, even months” if necessary.

Hyundai Motor called the protest “regrettable” in an e-mailed statement, saying the firm would soon meet leaders of the union of temporary workers.

The protest has caught the attention of politicians before the December presidential election.

Ahn Cheol-Soo, a software mogul and an independent presidential candidate, visited the site Thursday and vowed to help improve pay for temporary workers.

In 2011, a female South Korean activist stayed on top of a 35-metre-high shipyard crane of Hanjin Heavy Industries in Busan for 309 days in protest against job losses.

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