Workers at Kia Motors Slovakia have officially been on strike alert since April 10, a day before Skoda Auto in neighbouring Czechia agreed a 12% wage hike, and in the midst of tense wage negotiations at carmaker PSA Peugeot Citroen, and local suppliers to both firms.
The strike talks underscore the power of Slovakian unions amid a booming economy and falling unemployment, and show workers’ rising discontent at being cheap labour for Western businesses and the movement among Central European economies away from a cheap-labour model.
Negotiations at Kia Motors began in November, with the KOVO trade union in the car maker’s plant in Zilina representing the employees. Trade unionist Miroslav Chladek said they are pushing for a €84 average monthly salary increase, €14 more than management is offering, and seeking additional holiday time for long-term employees and longer contracts.
Kia Motors Slovakia HR director Anton Ondrej, however, said the carmaker is offering long-term employees an average monthly salary increase of €107, while the trade union is demanding about €117. By holding out for €10 more, employees stand to lose far more, he said, as during a strike they are not entitled to salaries and risk losing bonuses tied to production.
“On the first day of the strike alert, I had at least 20 phone calls and personal meetings with people reporting that their superiors are asking who wants to join a [potential] strike, which is, of course, unlawful,” Chladek said, noting he had informed the union’s lawyers about it. “We’ll see how many people will find the courage to file a joint motion,” he added.
Kia Motors Slovakia spokesman Jozef Bace categorically rejected there had been any impropriety, noting mechanisms for anonymous reporting of such things were facilitated on the company’s website. “So far, we haven’t officially received any complaints about such procedures by superiors.”
Although the dispute in Kia is more serious than at Peugeot, it is the first time that the trade unions of both carmakers and two other trade unions of Hella Slovakia and Mobis Slovakia, suppliers of both, have coordinated their steps and worked toward the same goal of increasing wages.
In 2017, the average monthly salary of Kia production workers was €1,456 with including bonuses, while the regional average is just about €1,000. Kia in Slovakia is the only production plant in Europe and employs over 3,800 people in Slovakia.
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