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FineTek union deal ends smokestack protest

Jan 12,2019
The labor union of FineTek, a display equipment manufacturer, and management reached a labor deal Friday after two workers staged a sit-in on top of a smokestack at a power plant for more than a year to protest layoff.

Two of five FineTek unionized workers had been waging the protest atop the 75-meter (246-foot) smokestack at a combined heat and power plant in western Seoul for about 14 months, calling on the management to keep its promise on job security.

The workers went on a hunger strike last week as well, raising concerns about their health.

The labor deal will allow five workers to work again at a factory of FineTek, a subsidiary of Starflex, a manufacturer of plastic film.

The agreement also guarantees their job security for at least three years and provides the minimum hourly pay set for 2019 plus 1,000 won ($0.89).

“We will decide how to bring them back to the ground safely and fast by taking into account the condition of the two workers on the hunger strike,” a group supportive of the FineTek workers said.

The workers’ 426-day sit-in, the longest protest atop a smokestack in the country’s history, followed a similar protest staged by a FineTek worker at a factory smokestack in the city of Gumi, North Gyeongsang, for 408 days between 2014 and 2015.

Their labor strife traced back to 2010, when Star Chemical, a chemical company under Starflex’s wing, bought a now-defunct textile processing company where the five employees previously worked.

The parent company decided to sell a Star Chemical factory and liquidate the company, as Star Chemical posted a net loss in 2011-2012.

During the process, Starflex fired around 20 workers, including the five who refused to join voluntary retirement.

The initial sit-in in 2014-15 ended after Starflex agreed to reinstate workers at FineTek, a newly created company. But later, the company did not keep its promise, prompting the workers to start another smokestack rally in November 2017.