South Korea Warns Hyundai Union Strike Is Illegal

South Korean Labor Minister Lee Sang Soo said on Tuesday a partial strike by Hyundai Motor unionized workers over a bonus dispute was clearly illegal and warned the government would sternly deal with it.

Union members halted work for four hours during the day shift and four hours during the night shift on Monday, and will suspend production for a longer period on Wednesday. Representatives of Hyundai's union authorized the labor action last week without a vote by union members, which is required for a strike.

Police in Ulsan, where Hyundai has a car plant, are seeking an arrest warrant for Park Yoo Ki, the union's leader, and another union official on charges of interrupting business operations, a police official, who asked not to be identified, said by telephone.

The labor minister, speaking during a program on state-run KBS radio earlier in the day, urged the country's largest single union to immediately end the action, which Hyundai estimated has cost 17,977 vehicles in lost production. "It is clearly illegal not simply because it ignored legally approved procedures, but as the union has launched the action over an issue that is not a legitimate target," Lee said.

"The government has in the past said it would sternly deal with illegal industrial disputes according to the law, but I think the time has come for the government to show what that means," he said, without elaborating further.

Park, the union leader, said during the KBS radio program the union did not need to hold a vote to strike over a past issue, calling the bonus dispute an extension of the 2006 wage negotiations.

Hyundai's management and union held talks to end the strike on Tuesday, but bonus issue is not subject to negotiation, a Hyundai official said.

On Monday, Hyundai filed a court injunction to stop the strike.

Poor labor relations are seen as a major hurdle to Hyundai's target of becoming the world's No.5 automaker by sales volume along with its affiliate Kia Motors, from its current No.6 position.