Samsung is still opposing worker unionization in its home country even as the pressure from various regulators and the general public is mounting, Reuters reports, citing interviews with current and former employees who claim the company previously went to great lengths to oppose such coalitions from forming within its ranks. Under 300 of the firm's 200,000 workers in South Korea are unionized, with that ratio being well below the national standard, even in the context of massive family-run conglomerates, also known as chaebols. According to local unions, some 74-percent of Hyundai Motor's 68,000 employees are members of such labor groups meant to push for better pay, working conditions, and other benefits.
The Supreme Court of South Korea dealt a major blow to Samsung's efforts to oppose worker unionization in 2016 after ruling that the company wrongfully terminated one Jo Jang-hee in the summer of 2011, mere days after the restaurant manager at one of its amusement parks in the Far Eastern country attempted to unite the local workforce. Mr. Jo claimed he was offered a raise and a promotion to drop the idea, a notion that Samsung denied in court, arguing he was terminated for repeatedly violating the firm's policies unrelated to unionization, an activity it doesn't forbid in principle as doing so is illegal under the Korean law. After a five-year court battle, Mr. Jo was reinstated but remains adamant that Samsung's opposition to unions is worrying given how the Seoul-based tech giant is among the world's largest employers.
The chaebol's stance on unions may be changing across some of its affiliates due to high-profile investigations of working conditions at some of its factories, as well as legal clashes such as the one instigated by Mr. Jo. This April, Samsung Electronics hired 8,000 of its subcontractors as full-time workers and recognized their union with some 1,000 members as part of an unconventional decision that goes against the company's historically strong opposition against such organizations. The move came as local prosecutors started an investigation into the subsidiary, though Samsung's offer has yet to materialize. Samsung's general corporate stance on unions is that they are unnecessary and can have profoundly negative effects on the efficiency of all business operations, with the firm repeatedly arguing it's striving to offer above-average conditions to its employees so as to eliminate the need for unionization.