Samsung workers demand fair wages despite receiving 5.1% hike

More than 2,000 unionized workers from Samsung Electronics rallied in Seoul on Friday, demanding fair wages from the South Korean technology giant, Reuters news report said.
Galaxy S23 from SamsungSamsung has decided to increase wages by 5.1 percent this year. While the union does not oppose the wage hike, it also demands an additional day of annual leave and transparent performance-based bonuses. This year’s 5.1 percent pay raise is higher than the 4.1 percent wage hike of the previous year.

Samsung Electronics, the world’s largest memory chip and smartphone maker, in March said it decided to raise wages by some 5 percent to boost employee morale.

In March, Samsung’s unionized workers, which accounted for around 4 percent of the total 110,000 workers, have called for a 6.5 percent wage hike, Yonhap news report said.

Samsung Electronics has reported net profit of KRW 6.62 trillion on revenue of KRW 71.92 trillion during the first quarter of 2024.

The Reuters news report said National Samsung Electronics Union (NSEU) has seen its membership quadruple over the past two years to about 28,000, more than a fifth of the company’s total workforce, according to union officials.

This surge in union membership follows Samsung’s 2020 pledge to cease practices that discouraged organized labor. Jay Y. Lee, chairman of Samsung Electronics, publicly apologized for past union-busting tactics and ended the company’s “no-union” philosophy.

Despite relatively low union membership rates in South Korea compared to other OECD countries, more young workers are recognizing the benefits of unionization. Government data shows that union membership levels in South Korea have remained stagnant over the past two decades.

Chanting “respect labor,” the unionized engineers and office workers enjoyed performances by a comedian-turned-DJ dressed as a Buddhist monk and K-pop singers. The rally near Samsung’s office in the upscale Gangnam district of Seoul at times resembled a street party, with workers in their 20s and 30s clapping and dancing.

“Our rallies are non-violent, but we can still show our strength,” said Choi Young-wook, a 27-year-old Samsung chip engineer, wearing a black cap with the union’s logo.

The rally comes at a challenging time for Samsung, which is facing difficulties in its semiconductor chip sector. This week, the company replaced the head of its semiconductor unit, citing a need for new leadership to navigate the industry’s “crisis.”

Negotiations between the company and the union resumed on May 21, though some union officials are skeptical about the company’s commitment to meaningful consultation. Samsung Electronics, in a statement to Reuters, confirmed that working-level negotiations had resumed and main negotiations were scheduled for May 28. “We will sincerely engage in discussions with the union,” the statement read.

Union officials note a growing belief among younger employees that unions can create a fairer workplace, contrasting with older generations who viewed unions as potential disruptors of productivity. South Korea’s union membership rate has hovered around 10 percent since 2004, according to labor ministry data.

“More and more people inside the company are realizing why they need unions, which is to have a voice, and we are getting empowered by these people day by day,” said Son Woo-mok, president of NSEU, who joined Samsung in 2005.