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Hyundai Motor Union Workers Begin Partial Strike

Unionized workers at Hyundai Motor began a promised partial strike Monday amid a dispute with management over bonuses, a union official said.

The walkout, which was approved last week by union representatives, began as scheduled Monday afternoon, said Jung Jun Yung, the head of the union's overseas cooperation department. Unionized workers plan to lay down tools Monday for a total of eight hours at three different factories.

Hyundai Motor confirmed the strike was under way, company spokesman Jake Jang said. Hyundai asked the Ulsan District Court to issue an order barring the walkout, Jang said, though added no decision had yet been reached.

Ulsan is an industrial city 415 kilometers (260 miles) southeast of Seoul where the world's sixth-largest automaker has its main factory.

Labor troubles are a near constant headache for Hyundai. The company's union has gone on strike every year but one since it was established in 1987.

Under the strike plan, workers will carry out normal shifts Tuesday, but expand the strike Wednesday to a total of 12 hours at each of the three factories. They will decide further action, if any, on Wednesday.

A total of 400 representatives voted unanimously Friday for the 44,000-strong member union to walk off the job.

Unionized workers have refused to work overtime since Dec. 28 after workers received a bonus equal to one month's salary, which they say is less than agreed.

The company says the negotiated bonus total was based on an incentive to reach the company's 2006 production target and since that was not achieved because of strikes the payment was reduced.

A week ago, Hyundai sued the union, seeking damages to help cover production losses caused by the refusal to do overtime.

Last year was Hyundai's worst ever in terms of strikes. A total of four walkouts cost Hyundai 118,293 vehicles in lost production costing 1.64 trillion won (US$1.75 billion), according to the company.

Hyundai was also dogged by turmoil following the April arrest and jailing of Chairman Chung Mong Koo on embezzlement and breach of trust charges related to a slush fund scandal.

Chung, 68, was released from detention in late June on bail and returned to work after spending time in a hospital. He is currently on trial and was due to appear in court on Tuesday.