(ATTN: Minor edits in paras 3, 6; ADDS byline)
By Kim Kwang-tae
SEOUL, Aug. 9 (Yonhap) -- The union of South Korea's largest carmaker Hyundai Motor Co. has taken the first step toward a possible strike by calling for mediation with a state-run labor body to try to work out a wage deal with the management, officials said Friday.
Officials of the union and the management are set to hold their first meeting with their counterparts of the National Labor Relations Commission next Wednesday, according to the commission.
The union's move on Wednesday came a day after it said its talks with the management over a nearly three-month-old wage deal collapsed.
The mediation is set to end on Aug. 19 when the commission can either ask the union and the management to hold more negotiations or halt its mediation, meaning the union can go on a strike, according to the commission.
The union can go on strike if the state-run body fails to mediate the dispute, according to Shin Jin-yi, a commission official handling labor issues.
"We will go on a strike, no matter the outcome on Aug. 19," Kwon Oh-il, a spokesman for the Hyundai union, said over the phone from Ulsan, the home to Hyundai's main assembly plants, located some 410 kilometers southeast of Seoul
By law, a union cannot down tools during the commission's mediation period.
Also Friday, some 400 delegates of the union officially said the union is in dispute with the management over a wage deal, and since no progress has been made with the management, the stage is set for a vote on whether to strike.
Kwon said 45,000 unionized workers are set to vote on Tuesday on whether to go on strike, which requires majority approval from union members.
The union demanded a hike of 130,498 won (US$117) in basic salaries and an extension of the retirement age to 61, as well as other benefits.
Kwon renewed his position that the union can resume negotiations with the management, though he said the management did not offer any positive offers to resolve the dispute.
The carmaker said it had no immediate comment on the union's recent moves.
Strikes have plagued Hyundai Motor for decades. The unionized workers have downed tools every year due to wage disputes since 1986, except in 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2011, according to the carmaker.
Hyundai Motor forms the world's fifth-largest automaker together with its smaller sister company Kia Motors Corp.