SKorean auto workers strike over plan for mass layoffs

SEOUL, May 21, 2009 (AFP) - Workers at South Korea's smallest automaker Ssangyong Motor went on strike Thursday in protest at plans for mass layoffs to save the firm from bankruptcy.

Assembly lines at its plant in Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul, stopped at 1:30 pm, union spokesman Lee Chang-Geun told AFP.

"Management should come to talk with the union on avoiding the proposed massive job cuts," Lee said, adding that the duration of the strike would be decided Friday.

Debt-stricken Ssangyong in February won court protection from creditors. The court told its Chinese majority owner, Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp (SAIC), to give up management control.

Court-appointed managers have since struggled to turn the company around through job cuts and cost savings.

The programme calls for the sacking of 2,646 workers or 36 percent of the workforce, in what would be the country's first mass layoffs since the onset of the global economic crisis in September.

The programme also proposes the firm take out a new bank loan of 250 billion won (200 million dollars) by offering its factory as collateral.

Union leaders representing 7,100 workers immediately rejected the job cuts and demanded managers minimise sackings through job-sharing.

Ssangyong, which specialises in sport-utility vehicles and luxury sedans, posted a net loss of 709.7 billion won last year on sales of 2.5 trillion won.

In the first three months of this year, its sales nosedived 76 percent to 6,471 units. SAIC still holds a 51 percent stake in the firm.

Source: AFP

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