KPTU calls on the government to prohibit dismissals

PSI affiliate announced its demands to the South Korean government to protect workers in the aviation sector.

Reposted from the Korean Public Service and Transport Workers' Union website, with minor edits for clarity.

  • Today (March 31), the Korean Public Service and Transport Workers' Union (KPTU), held a press conference to make the following demands. The Korean government must order a temporary prohibition on dismissals beginning with the Yeongjong area and aviation industry and expanding to other industries.

  • The Incheon Jung District government must name Icheon International Airport (ICN) and the Yeongjong area an 'employment crisis zone' and develop a support scheme for vulnerable workers who fall in the blindspot of the current employment maintenance support scheme.

  • The government must improve the current employment maintenance support scheme through advance payment of support and permitting application for support by workplace or department.

On March 26, the Incheon International Airport Corporation (IIAC) announced plans to implement a three-phase emergency operation plan in response to the significant decrease in passenger traffic since the outbreak of Covid-19. As of March 23, daily passenger travel has dropped 95% from 200,000 to less than 10,000 people a day. IIAC is currently implementing phase one of the emergency operation plan. Should it proceed to phase two, most facilities at the airport will be shut down.

Phase One (current): To be implemented when passenger traffic falls to between 7,000 and 12,000 passengers per day. Scale back use of and access to departure gates, arrivals hall, check-in counters, shuttle trains and baggage handling activities.

Phase Two: To be implemented when passenger traffic falls to between 3,000 and 7,000 passengers per day. Close Runway 3, close select commercial outlets and close select boarding gates.

Phase Three: To be implemented when passenger traffic falls to less than 3,000 passengers per day. Close most commercial outlets, maintain minimal, essential systems, including water supply and power supply.

While the government is providing support in the form of fee waivers to airlines, many aviation workers are going without support and facing wage cuts, unpaid leave and redundancies. Directly employed airline staff have seen their wages cut and are on mandatory leave without pay. Subcontracted ground staff, cabin cleaners and workers in other businesses reliant on ICN (in the Yeongjong area) are being forced to use vacation time and accept unpaid leave or face redundancies, yet are without government support because their employers refuse to apply for it or do not qualify. Companies with low margins are choosing to lay off workers rather than receive employment maintenance support and still have to top off the 90% wage replacement provided by the government. Many contractors with business in other sectors and regions are failing to qualify due to their size (over 300 employees) or because they've hired outside of the ICN-Yeongjong area.

Press Conference Statement

With ICN near shutdown, cases of resignation and redundancies are skyrocketing!

Implement a temporary prohibition on dismissals and make the ICN-Yeongjong area an employment crisis zone!

Workers in the aviation sector and Yeongjong area are experiencing a chilly spring due to the continuation of the Covid-19 crisis. The threat of redundancies and structural adjustment is blowing over them like a cold wind. The number of flights at ICN has dropped from 1,200 to 100, the number of passengers using the airport from 200,000 to 10,000 a day. Despite some support measures by the government, most airlines, ground handlers and contracting companies are forcing workers to use their vacation time or take unpaid leave. Now workers are beginning to receive notices of advised retirement, voluntary early retirement and redundancy plans. An unchecked employment crisis is unfolding before their eyes.

The KCTU Airport Legal clinic and KCTU Legal support hotline are now receiving inquiries from workers in duty free shops and service establishments. Reports of illegal actions by employers and threats of unemployment come in all day long, and the numbers are continuing to increase. With the government support measures not being applied, fears of mass redundancies are rising. The employment support currently offered by the government requires employers to pay work suspension allowances first and then apply for support retroactively. Employers who have difficulty getting loans and face liquidity problems are avoiding this situation by forcing workers to take unpaid leave or resign, rather than applying for support. Action must be taken to close this loophole. Support for maintaining employment must be provided in advance to make it possible to avoid unpaid leave and dismissals, and employers made to promise they will not let workers go.

At the very least, the government must put forward a plan for maintaining employment in the Yeongjong area and the aviation sector, where recommended retirement and redundancies have already begun. To make this possible, dismissals for COVID-19 reasons must be stopped. Already in Italy, all dismissals for economic reasons have been prohibited, while in France, the Netherlands and the United States, special measures to prohibit dismissals and ward off an employment crisis in the aviation sector have been put in place. The Korean government should take similar steps in Yeongjong and the aviation sector and expand them to the rest of the country. Bold steps like these are needed to protect workers' livelihoods. In addition, the Incheon Jung District government should work with unions to develop a plan to support workers in the aviation and surrounding communities by declaring Yeongjong an employment emergency zone.

KPTU therefore makes the following demands

First, the government must take resolute action in declaring a temporary prohibition on dismissals. Bold resolve is needed to overcome the employment crisis that is already out of hand. Begin by prohibiting dismissals in the Yeongjong area and the aviation industry and expand the prohibition nationally.

Second, declare the ICN-Yeongjong area a special employment crisis zone. Airline contractors and subcontractors continue to be excluded from the designated special employment support sectors. Measures to include them one by one will take time and not be enough to cover all workers in the ICN-Yeongjong area. Measures are needed to support not only workers at ICN but also those in related industries. To make this possible, the Incheon Jung District government should declare the area an employment crisis zone and the central government should follow with support to stop the crisis from escalating.

Finally, recognising that many of the companies doing business at ICN are relatively large in size, the government should enable them to apply for employment maintenance support on a location or department basis. Contracting companies do business in a range of localities and sectors. If one of these companies has made a new hire in another area, it means employees facing dismissal are ineligible for support. The problems in the current scheme must be fixed and the range of sector eligible for support made more concrete. Further, as is the case in the Netherlands, the government should not wait for employers to apply for support. Support should be paid ahead of time and promises not to dismiss extracted from employers. Fix the problems in the current support scheme and make it work to stop dismissals!