Labor unions representing 71,000 workers at Hyundai Motor Co. Ltd. and Kia Motors Corp. have delayed plans to begin partial strikes until later this week, company officials tell Ward’s.

On June 12, the Federation of Korean Metal Workers union announced workers would stage partial strikes lasting two to five hours over a 5-day period, beginning today, in protest of the pending U.S.-South Korea free-trade agreement.

Hyundai’s union leadership held an emergency session this weekend and voted to omit the first three days of the strike called for by the KMWU. Workers still are expected to hold a 4-hour partial strike on Thursday and a 6-hour strike Friday.

“Although union leaders have scaled back plans to strike in protest over the pending Korean-U.S. free-trade agreement, the lost production will still hurt us,” a Hyundai spokesman says. “It definitely hurts, as we have new models out there, with the i30 just coming on and a lot of customers waiting for it in Europe. In the U.S., we have launched the Veracruz.”

Last week, government officials warned the unions that the pending strikes are illegal, calling them politically motivated as they have nothing to do with contracted wages or working conditions. The officials said union leaders would be punished severly in accord with national laws if the strikes took place.

Korean news reports say many workers belonging to Hyundai’s 43,000-member union are opposed to the FTA-related work stoppages and are pressuring union leaders to withdraw from the strike plan.

“Hyundai stands to get much benefit from the FTA, but the union is considering the possible impact on industries outside of the automotive sector,” the Hyundai spokesman says. “They are concerned about its impact on farmers and the agricultural industry.”

A Kia spokesman tells Ward’s the auto maker’s 28,000-member union will take a strike vote Wednesday to determine if they also will hold partial strikes later this week.

“If they do decide to strike, the strike schedule will be the same as Hyundai’s,” he says. “It is possible Kia could hold off on striking, but in the past there has been interconnection with what the Hyundai union has done.”

Meanwhile, a GM Daewoo Auto & Technology Co. spokesman says workers will not participate in any partial strikes Monday through Wednesday. And there are no plans for any work stoppages for the remainder of the week.

“We think they may not strike at all, and that is our hope, “ he says.

GMDAT has 18,000 workers, including temporary hires.

Analysts say failure of the Hyundai, Kia and GMDAT workers to participate in the full five days of strikes called for by the KMWU delivers a hard blow to the umbrella organization.

The three auto makers contribute 62% of the KMWU’s 143,000 members.

The Korea Institute for Industrial Economics and Trade says strikes at Hyundai and Kia accounted for 1.7 trillion won ($1.8 billion) in Korean production losses last year.