29 June 2016 Asia South Korea
South Korean Shipyard Workers Vote To Strike
Almost unprecedented vote shows scale of Korean shipyard woes

(Picture: South Korea was until recently in boom times)
Over 91% of participants in a ballot calling for strike action responded positively to their union's call on Tuesday at the embittered Samsung Heavy Industries shipyards in South Korea.

Like many other Korean shipbuilders, debts and a much altered shipping environment has meant restructuring has had to take place at Samsung, with the company looking to shed some 1500 jobs this years.

Samsung does not permit a formal union at their yards but the workers have organised themselves into a Council and although the strike vote is more advisory than anything likely to lead to action, the signal from the workers clearly demonstrates their anger and fears.

A delegation of 150 are expected at the company's headquarters today where they will make their feelings and demands known outside the offices in an attempt to start talks with management.

With a glut of ships on the market place, less demolitions taking place and China's growth nowhere near the dizzying heights of the 2000s, shipping has struggled to maintain profitability. Shipbuilders have found it hard to compete without lowering prices and in doing so have reduced their liquidity.

Like China they have had to embark on a programme of restructuring and consolidation. This has hit the workforces hard, used as they are to a recent history of seemingly endless orders and burgeoning growth.

Samsung is one of the Big Three in South Korea and each of the major shipbuilders faces much the same set of difficulties, having grown exponentially in recent decades they now find themselves with heavy debts and salaries they cannot service without going into deeper debt.

Orders have practically dried up. In the first quarter of this year there were only eight ships on order from all the yards, which compares to 68 vessels the same period the previous year. China has similar problems but their costs are lower. Experts are already predicting that the boom period for South Korean shipbuilding has ended and will not return.