By on November 18, 2020

Over the last few years, General Motors has been cautiously hinting that it wants to pull out the Korean market. In 2018, the automaker started worrying about regional bankruptcy and shuttered one of its South Korean facilities after noting that labor costs had been on the rise. While the government handed GM 850 billion won ($712.85 million) in industrial aid to stick around, the region is known for labor disputes. We even celebrated the fact that South Korean Hyundai failed to strike in 2019. General Motors was less fortunate, however.

The Detroit-based company is once again discussing abandoning the market and citing labor issues as the primary cause. Employees have been organizing limited daily strikes since October 30th. Despite only lasting part of a single shift, it’s impacting production and will only end once the automaker ends a wage freeze enacted during the aforementioned deal in 2018.

Steve Kiefer, president of GM’s international operations, told Reuters this week that the strikes and other industrial actions have cost the company 17,000 vehicles in lost production. That number is expected to reach 20,000 units by the end of Friday.

From Reuters:

That blow to production was on top of the 60,000 units lost earlier in the year as the novel coronavirus spread, making it likely GM Korea would not turn a profit this year unless it could recapture that output, he added.

“We’re basically being held hostage in the short term by lack of vehicle production,” Kiefer said in a telephone interview. “That’s having a very significant short-term financial impact.”

The industrial action would “basically make it impossible for us to allocate any further investments or … new products to the country of Korea. It’s making the country non-competitive”, he said.

“It is going to have long-term effects if we can’t get this resolved in the coming weeks.”

The union is demanding to maintain one-year contracts and a yearly performance bonus of 22 million won ($19,900). It would also like the automaker’s assurance that two plants in Bupyeong will be allocated product so they can remain open and there’s been a push to transition contracted workers into full-time employees.

“We are not only striking over wage issues, but also over job security at our No. 2 plant in Bupyeong, which hires about 1,200 workers,” said union official Jung Jai-heon, who added negotiations haven’t gone as well as anticipated.

GM wants to move toward two-year labor deals and has offered signing bonuses of 8 million won ($7,230) for each union member over the next two years. But we’re inclined to believe it wants to pull out of the market (or at least streamline it heavily) after posting an operating loss of 332 billion won ($300.8 million) last year. While less serious than losses incurred in 2018, it’s not what GM wants to see when 2020 is guaranteed to be a financial disaster.

Fortunately for the region, the automaker cannot legally divest from South Korea for ten years after accepting government handouts in 2018. But GM isn’t exactly bending over backward to support local operations. Numerous programs have been cut as strikes continue. We envision the company giving Korea the bare minimum to adhere to legal obligations and shifting whatever operations it can to China over the next few years.

[Image: General Motors]

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22 Comments on “GM Says Labor Disputes Are Making South Korea Look Unmanageable...”


  • avatar

    poor management is a GM characteristic.

  • avatar
    Whatnext

    Just GM looking for excuses to pull out of yet another part of the globe. Fast becoming irrelevant.

    • 0 avatar
      tonycd

      I completely agree with Whatnext.

      GM saw no business case to remain in Australia. It’s much too smart to keep wasting resources trying to compete in Europe. Now it’ll surrender in South Korea.

      Did I mention they’ve waved the white flag on the passenger car market in North America? If “a smaller GM is a stronger GM” as it claims, pretty soon it’ll reach infinite strength.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Bupyeong should follow Ontario’s lead and fill GM’s pockets with money, and then repeat every couple years until 2028. Investment!

  • avatar
    Jtslater89

    GM has been struggling with labor disputes in South Korea for years. Despite this GM continues to allocate vehicle production to South Korea. The U.S. buys more Chevrolet Trax, Chevrolet Trailblazer, Buick Encore, Buick Encore GX than the Koreans do and yet the U.S. is not allowed to build them. If this was happening in the U.S. these factories would already be idled with no future product allocation.

  • avatar
    Syke

    So, Hyundai and Kia are going great guns, not only in the home market but overseas. Both marques have become major players with good reputations in the United States. And all GM can accomplish is to talk about pulling out of the market because it’s untenable? Using essentially the same kind of factories, and the same labor force?

    Pitiful. Pathetic. And any comments I’ve got on top of those two are basically unprintable here.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    GM will either sell Daewoo or close their manufacturing. GM is selling their truck plant in Thailand. Eventually GM will either be sold, merged, or will be sold piece by piece. I could see if GM withdrew from South Korea that the South Korean government would ask another South Korean company like Hyundai or Kia to take over Daewoo’s manufacturing facilities and keep their workers. I doubt GM will stay in South Korea.

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      Why would Hyundai or Kia want to saddle themselves with thousands more union workers when they have their own long history of labor issues in Korea?

      And those issues will only continue to get worse as increasing electrification requires fewer workers.

  • avatar

    Cut and run Barra strikes again! Since 2014 she has taken GM from 2nd to fifth in international market share. GM has sold nearly 4 million less vehicles in 2019 compared to 2014.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Well the South Korean Government did a similar thing when they asked Hyundai to step in and take Kia after Ford dropped Kia. Not saying that that will happen but the South Korean Government might try if GM drops Daewoo. Governments don’t like to lose jobs especially when the next election is close. Job loss will occur despite electrification especially when more robotics are used but Governments hate to lose jobs and will try to do things to retain them.

  • avatar
    Sceptic

    For all those unhappy union workers there is always the other Korea to the North. No labor disputes, worker’s paradise.

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