Disclaimer: The following is a totally personal translation of an article appeared in The Kyunghyang Shinmun on Feb. 7, 2014, reporting a court ruling invalidating the 2009 mass layoff by Ssangyong Motors which claimed 24 lives and caused ever-reverberating social conundrums in Korea since. If upheld in Supreme Court, it will pave the way that those laid-off workers can go back to the company which has showed solid performance recently. All rights regarding this post stay with the author(s) of the original article or with The Kyunghyang Shinmun and this post will be scrapped immediately at their request. In the post, I tried to match the English translation of names of people / institution(s) / position(s) to authentic one(s) as much as possible but, unfortunately, some of them still can be different. Original article of this post (in Korean) can be found in previous link.
By Hong-doo Park, Soon-jae Kwon, In-ha Ryu 박홍두·권순재·류인하 기자 phd
‘5-long-year struggle for 5-minute reward’
“The layoff of the plaintiffs by the defendant (Ssangyong Motors; SM below) in June 8th, 2009 was all invalid.” The Judge sentenced and all former SM laid-off workers cried. Some even looked up the ceiling in ghostly pointless teary eyes.
The sentencing trial of a civil lawsuit filed by 153 former SM workers to contend the validity of layoff was held at 10 AM in January 7 at Seoul High Court. About 30 laid-off workers and families had started to appear at the Seoul High Court building even an hour earlier than the trial actually began. Many looked stiff as if angry. Union lost the first trial and the expectation was very low this time as well.
However, courtroom started to be disturbed while the judge read his ruling statement: contrary to what all expected, his sentence recognized the illegitimacy of the layoff. All eyes of laid-off workers darted at judge’s lips. One woman, holding her hands together, dropped her head during sentencing. One by one, shoulders heaved. No eyes were dry. ‘Sentence to invalidate the layoff’ that took 5 years to get ended in just 5 minutes. Even after the trial, they sat in the hollow courtroom for a while, blank. After a brief silence, they embraced each other. “Nicely-done.”
There was a improvised press conference in front of the court building. Since it was a totally unexpected win, they could not even prepare placards or hand-held banners beforehand.
“I could not believe my ears. Tears simply went down from my eyes.” Mr. Deuk-joong Kim, leader of Metal Workers’ Union SM Branch, told. With teary eyes, Mr. Kim said “for the last 5 years, we protested in streets, climbed a 154KV power transmission tower and stayed there for 171 days, and also protested at Daehanmun of Deoksoo Palace in Seoul for one year and seven months living in makeshift tents. We criss-crossed all over the country to let people know of our story,” and added “thinking of 24 colleagues and family members who left us during that time, we cannot just rejoice ourselves.” Some of laid-off workers who were listening to Mr. Kim’s speech were trying to hold up their tears looking up the sky.
Mr. Ji-young Kwon, representing family member of SM laid-off workers, said “We did not live our lives; we just hung on to ourselves so far. I hope all laid-off workers go back to factory in newly designed uniforms as soon as possible.”
Even the lawyer Young-kook Kwon who has been in charge of the lawsuit for union from the start said “I can’t believe the sentence. I hope this sentence can put some brakes on the ruthless layoffs rampant all over the society right now.”
This day, Seoul High Court Civil Court Bench 2 (Chief Judge Hye-hyeon Cho) overturned the prior ruling on the civil lawsuit filed by 153 former SM workers including Seok-joo Rho to contend the validity of their layoff during the 2009 incident and sentenced that it was illegitimate. It also ordered SM to pay 1 million won to each of 151 union members for compensation. If the ruling is upheld in the supreme court, the laid-off workers can go back to the company. Court decided that “it does not look that the company had urgent managerial necessity to resort to mass layoffs or the company did enough to avoid it at that time.” Court also added “There is suspicion on the integrity of audit reports by Deloitte Anjin LLC and Deloitte Consulting and by Samjong KPMG which have been mentioned as the principal ground for the layoff and analyzed the financial solvency of the company as well as the scope of layoff. It is also unclear how they determined the number of people the company had to trim at that time.”
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