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Samsung Workers Start 3-Day Strike in South Korea

Samsung enjoyed a more than 15-fold rise in second-quarter operating profit, as chip prices rebounded thanks to the AI boom, but the group opposes unions and the strike may have little impact


Workers from the National Samsung Electronics Union (NSEU) hold banners that read 'Respect labour' in front of the Samsung Electronics Seocho Building in Seoul, South Korea, on May 24, 2024 (Reuters image).

 

Tens of thousands of workers at Samsung Electronics in South Korea – one of the world’s biggest chipmakers – began a three-day strike for better pay on Monday.

The workers’ union has warned that it will take further action against the country’s biggest conglomerate if their demands are not met.

The National Samsung Electronics Union (NSEU), whose roughly 30,000 members make up close to a quarter of the firm’s South Korean workforce, also wants an extra day of annual leave for unionised workers.

 

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However, low participation and automated production means the strike is unlikely to have a major impact on output at the world’s biggest memory chipmaker, analysts said.

The union conducted its first industrial action last month, coordinating annual leave to effectively stage a mass walkout. Samsung has said the action had no impact on business activity.

The company declined to comment on Monday’s strike.

The union, which did not disclose last month’s participation, said 6,540 workers are striking this week, mostly at manufacturing sites and in product development.

Workers gathered en masse on Monday near Samsung’s headquarters in Hwaseong, south of Seoul.

Union president Son Woo-mok disputed media reports of a low participation rate, saying that the fledgling union – founded five years ago – did not have enough time to educate rank-and-file union members.

“Education about labour unions for union members and employees has not been enough. But I don’t think this participation is low because our union is still young compared to other unions,” he said.

 

More strikes if demands not met

Lee Hyun-kuk, a senior union leader, said last week that there could be another round of strikes if demands this time are not heard.

Union officials have called the company’s bonus system unfair, in that it is calculated by deducting the cost of capital from operating profit.

The union’s membership at Samsung has grown since the technology giant pledged in 2020 to stop discouraging the growth of organised labour.

Its growth demonstrates a decline in staff loyalty and is another headache for Samsung as the firm navigates competition in chips used for artificial intelligence (AI) applications, analysts said.

On Friday, Samsung estimated a more than 15-fold rise in second-quarter operating profit, as rebounding semiconductor prices driven by the AI boom lifted earnings from a low comparison base a year earlier. Still, its share price performance has lagged compatriot chip rival SK Hynix.

Its share price was up 0.5% as of midday on Monday after rising as much as 1.72% earlier in the session to its highest since January 2021. Last week, it jumped 6.9% on higher-than-expected preliminary second-quarter earnings.

 

  • Reuters with additional editing by Jim Pollard

 

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Jim Pollard

Jim Pollard is an Australian journalist based in Thailand since 1999. He worked for News Ltd papers in Sydney, Perth, London and Melbourne before travelling through SE Asia in the late 90s. He was a senior editor at The Nation for 17+ years.

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