Indian PM should address Ssangyong workers’ plight
By Kim Tae-jong
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is among the dozens of world leaders flocking to Seoul for the Nuclear Security Summit.
As the leader of one of the planet’s largest and fastest growing economies, Singh’s presence in the 53-nation summit will be crucial when global leaders attempt to advance their talks on security and keeping sensitive nuclear materials from terrorists.
Another priority for Singh is to broaden discussions about strengthening economic ties with Korea, which was the main topic of his talks with Korean President Lee Myung-bak Sunday.
However, the thousands of workers laid off in recent years from Ssangyong Motors, a Korea-based automaker recently acquired by Indian industry giant, Mahindra & Mahindra, are hoping that Singh could show interest in their plight as well.
In a restructuring effort seen by critics as ruthless, Ssangyong, then controlled by China’s Shanghai Automotive, shed around 2,600 workers from its payroll in 2009. The problem is that hundreds of them agreed to take a leave of absence with the understanding that they would be called back by the company once it got back on track.
However, the company’s Chinese owners have not acted on their promise to reinstate the 460 or so workers, who have since experienced severe financial and psychological distress.
It’s hard to find Mahindra & Mahindra at fault for the struggles of the sidelined workers as it wasn’t until April last year when it acquired Ssangyong from Shanghai Automotive. And it’s much more awkward to ask the Indian government to have an opinion on this matter.
Still, it would be recommendable for Mahindra & Mahindra to step in and end a problem that continues to be a toxic stain on Ssangyong’s public image. A total of 21 Ssangyong employees or their family members have either committed suicide or died of what were presumed workrelated illnesses since Shanghai Automotive’s company-wide shake-up in 2009.
Asking Mahindra & Mahindra to rehire all of the laid-off workers would be too much. But it is important for the company to make a gesture, any gesture that shows its commitment to purge Ssangyong from its painful past and rebuild it as a leading industrial brand, as it was before the Asian financial crisis.
Aware of the public’s negative image of Shanghai Automotive, Mahindra & Mahindra has continuously claimed it would be a different owner. There will be no better way to prove its point than by addressing the problems experienced by the company’s former workers.
Representatives of the laid-off Ssangyong employees visited the Indian Embassy here last week to request a meeting with the Indian prime minister on his visit to Seoul. However, it’s highly unlikely that they will get any face time with Singh.