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S. Korea urges US to handle USFK employees’ jobs

Jeong Eun-bo, South Korea’s top negotiator for the defense cost-sharing deal with the US, speaks at a press conference at Seoul’s Foreign Ministry on Friday. (Yonhap)
Jeong Eun-bo, South Korea’s top negotiator for the defense cost-sharing deal with the US, speaks at a press conference at Seoul’s Foreign Ministry on Friday. (Yonhap)

South Korea hopes to handle the issue of the upkeep of South Korean employees for United States Forces Korea, as negotiations on defense cost sharing between Seoul and Washington drag on, South Korea’s top negotiator said Friday.

“We offered the US an MOU to sign on to cover the costs for Korean national employees at USFK, just in case we don’t finalize (amendments in) the Special Measures Agreement, the cost-sharing deal, on time,” Jeong Eun-bo said.

The finalized SMA would later include the cost incurred under the proposed MOU. Since South Korea and the US are of the same opinion on the need to cover labor costs for those workers, Seoul expects Washington to accept the proposal, according to Jeong.

On Friday, the US military said it started notifying nearly 9,000 South Koreans working for USFK that they could be put on unpaid leave as Seoul and Washington have yet to agree on cost-sharing for the upkeep of 28,500 American troops here.

USFK said Friday that it was bound by US law to deliver the notice a month in advance of the furlough that begins April 1. The US Defense Department said it would fund critical USFK logistics as well as key positions related to life, health, safety and readiness services.

“We greatly value our Korean national workforce and their contributions to the ROK-US Alliance. They are our employees, co-workers, teammates, and all are essential to our mission,” said USFK Commander Gen. Robert Abrams.

The US military commander said he would do everything in his power to continue finding an alternative to the current situation even during the furlough.

After initial rounds of talks that began last September and had ended without fruition, South Korean and US defense chiefs held the latest talks on the cost-sharing deal in Washington this week but failed to find a consensus.

Washington has earlier asked for $5 billion a year, five times more than what Seoul paid last year. Washington reportedly cut back the amount during the talks, but an agreement is still far off.

Last month, USFK had given South Korean workers 60-day furlough warnings, to which the secretary general of the workers’ union responded that they would continue their work regardless of the furlough.

About 70 percent of South Korea’s contribution covers salaries of the South Korean workers for their noncombat and administrative services to the US military base in Seoul.

By Choi Si-young (siyoungchoi@heraldcorp.com)
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