ULSAN, South Korea (Reuters) - Hyundai Motor’s (005380.KS) union chief warned its workers may face a similar crisis to the one hitting General Motors’ (GM.N) South Korean unit as sales in key markets slide, adding that electric cars were ‘evil’ and will destroy jobs.
South Korea’s auto industry, known for its robust unions whose workers tend to be paid more and have better benefits than their compatriots in other sectors, has come to a crossroads.
Blaming high labor costs and falling sales, General Motors (GM.N) plans to close one of its plants in the country by May and is weighing options for its three other factories.
“We’re feeling job anxiety. We’re feeling a sense of crisis,” Ha Bu-young, the head of the Hyundai Motor union, South Korea’s biggest and most powerful union, told Reuters in an interview late last week.
He said that at three of Hyundai’s five plants in Ulsan, the world’s biggest car factory complex, workers had been asked to take longer holidays as sales of sedans and older model SUVs like the Santa Fe slow in the United States and other markets.
Hyundai Motor and its affiliate Kia Motors (000270.KS) were also hit by diplomatic tensions between Seoul and Beijing last year, leading to a slump in sales in the world’s biggest auto market. The two automakers have flagged only modest global sales growth in 2018.
Longer term, Ha fears the advent of electric cars, which when they go mainstream could wreak havoc on traditional auto jobs as they require far fewer engine and transmission parts.
Hyundai’s union has predicted a strong shift into electric cars could lead to a loss in 70 percent of Hyundai jobs.
“Electric cars are disasters. They are evil. We are very nervous,” he said.
Reporting by Hyunjoo Jin; Editing by Soyoung Kim and Edwina Gibbs