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Hyundai Gear Up for Another Beef Strike

08 July 2008

SOUTH KOREA - The labor union of South Korea's largest automaker, Hyundai Motor Co., said Monday it will stage a second partial strike in less than a week to protest the resumption of U.S. beef imports and other pro-business government policies.

About 44,000 unionized workers at Hyundai's three plants in South Korea plan to walk off their jobs for four hours on Thursday during both day and night shifts, a union official said.

The planned work stoppage would be the second of what the government has called "political" strikes coordinated by an umbrella union of auto industry workers.

Hyundai's labor union will join a wider industrial action by the Korea Metal Workers Union, the umbrella labor group that includes South Korean automakers' unions.

The umbrella group said it will coordinate nationwide one-day protests this week, demanding that the government renegotiate quarantine terms for U.S. beef imports to quell concerns over mad cow disease.

The decision by Hyundai workers came less than a week after they staged a two-hour partial strike on Wednesday, causing 300 billion won (US$280 million) in lost production.

The government has pledged tougher action against such strikes, which it deems illegal because demands are not directly related to pay or working conditions.

Police are hunting down leaders of Hyundai's union for staging the strike.

The Hyundai union refuted the government's assertion last week, saying the move was legitimate because it was approved by a majority of union members.

"We increased our efforts to fight (these policies) as the labor ministry and prosecution called our industrial action illegal," said Chang Kyu-ho, a spokesman at Hyundai's union.

Officials at Hyundai's public relations team in Seoul weren't immediately available for comment.

Kia Motors Corp., an affiliate of Hyundai, GM Daewoo Auto & Technology Co., the South Korean unit of General Motors Corp., and Ssangyong Motor Co., the South Korean unit of China's Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp., will also strike on Thursday, according to their unions.

U.S. beef began to hit store shelves in South Korea last week, and consumer reactions were reportedly positive. The imported meat costs about one-fourth the price of beef from South Korean cattle.

South Korea was once the world's third-largest buyer of U.S. beef, importing an average of $850 million worth a year. Imports of the product were banned in 2003 after the discovery of the first U.S. case of mad cow disease.

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