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South Korea’s Samsung workers stage first strike: ‘largely symbolic, but it’s a beginning’

Management at the firm, the world’s biggest producer of memory chips, has been locked in negotiations with the union over wages and benefits since January but the two sides have failed to narrow their differences.

Lee Hyun-kuk, vice-president of the National Samsung Electronics Union, said Friday’s collective action was “largely symbolic, but it’s a beginning”.

“We have plans for follow-up strikes if the management is not willing to communicate with us openly,” Lee said.

“The union is not ruling out an all-out general strike.”

Union head Son Woo-mok added that the “first strike at Samsung Electronics” was taking place through “the use of paid leave, and it is understood that many employees are participating”.

“It’s difficult to provide an exact number, but from what I’ve seen of the workplace attendance in the morning, there is a significant difference from the usual,” he said.

Samsung Electronics said it has been “diligently engaging in negotiations with the union and will continue to do so”, and that there is “no impact on production and business activities”.

The paid leave usage rate on Friday was “lower than that of June 5 last year”, which, like Friday, was sandwiched between a public holiday and a weekend, the company said in a statement.

Around 10 workers held a protest in front of Samsung’s major office in Seoul on Friday, chanting, “Respect labour!”

Samsung Electronics is the flagship subsidiary of South Korean giant Samsung Group, by far the largest of the family-controlled conglomerates that dominate business in Asia’s fourth-largest economy.

The company has offered workers a pay hike of 5.1 per cent this year.

The union said on Friday it “is willing to positively review” that offer if Samsung also provides an additional