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Korea seeks furlough answer for USFK Korean workers

By Kang Seung-woo

As the deadline nears, the stalled defense cost-sharing talks between Korea and the United States have left Korean staff at U.S. military bases here on the brink of taking unpaid leave.

Unless the allies agree on Seoul's share of costs for stationing U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) by the end of this month, many of the 9,000 Korean workers will be forced into an indefinite furlough starting April 1. If this happens, the mandatory leave of absence would be the first of its kind since 1991 when Korea started partially funding the U.S. troops' stay.

The two countries have had seven rounds of negotiations for the Special Measures Agreement (SMA) since last September, only to confirm the gap between them. According to reports, U.S. President Donald Trump wants Korea to pay nearly $4 billion (5 trillion won) annually ― a fourfold increase from the amount paid last year ― but the Korean government is maintaining its offer of 1.2 trillion won.

"Furlough of Koreans may occur from April," Jeong Eun-bo, Korea's chief negotiator for SMA, said, Saturday, upon his return from Los Angeles after the latest three-day negotiations with his U.S. counterpart James DeHart.

The SMA determines the amount of money Korea will contribute toward the costs for the USFK, and Korea's SMA contributions are used to cover the wages of Korean workers, among others.

According to the USFK, it has informed about 5,000 of the Korean staff that they would be placed on furlough. In protest, Choe Ung-sik, head of the USFK Korean Employees Union, had his head shaved during a press conference in front of Cheong Wa Dae, Wednesday.

Jeong proposed that the Korean government reach a deal on personnel expenditures first, but the U.S. rejected it.

Although the two nations are set to continue to work to strike a deal, the situation is not favorable to Korea.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the governments of the two countries recommend overseas travel and person-to-person contact be minimized, making Korea look into the possibility of continuing the talks via video links.

"Using video conferencing and other methods, we plan to continue the negotiations," Foreign Ministry spokesman Kim In-chul said.

Worse, Jeong and his team are now under self-quarantine at home in accordance with the government's enhanced regulations stipulating that government officials who visit a coronavirus-hit country must self-quarantine for 14 days, raising concerns that the government could not make last-ditch efforts to conclude the deal before the deadline for the start of the furlough.


By Kang Seung-woo

As the deadline nears, the stalled defense cost-sharing talks between Korea and the United States have left Korean staff at U.S. military bases here on the brink of taking unpaid leave.

Unless the allies agree on Seoul's share of costs for stationing U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) by the end of this month, many of the 9,000 Korean workers will be forced into an indefinite furlough starting April 1. If this happens, the mandatory leave of absence would be the first of its kind since 1991 when Korea started partially funding the U.S. troops' stay.

The two countries have had seven rounds of negotiations for the Special Measures Agreement (SMA) since last September, only to confirm the gap between them. According to reports, U.S. President Donald Trump wants Korea to pay nearly $4 billion (5 trillion won) annually ― a fourfold increase from the amount paid last year ― but the Korean government is maintaining its offer of 1.2 trillion won.

"Furlough of Koreans may occur from April," Jeong Eun-bo, Korea's chief negotiator for SMA, said, Saturday, upon his return from Los Angeles after the latest three-day negotiations with his U.S. counterpart James DeHart.

The SMA determines the amount of money Korea will contribute toward the costs for the USFK, and Korea's SMA contributions are used to cover the wages of Korean workers, among others.

According to the USFK, it has informed about 5,000 of the Korean staff that they would be placed on furlough. In protest, Choe Ung-sik, head of the USFK Korean Employees Union, had his head shaved during a press conference in front of Cheong Wa Dae, Wednesday.

Jeong proposed that the Korean government reach a deal on personnel expenditures first, but the U.S. rejected it.

Although the two nations are set to continue to work to strike a deal, the situation is not favorable to Korea.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the governments of the two countries recommend overseas travel and person-to-person contact be minimized, making Korea look into the possibility of continuing the talks via video links.

"Using video conferencing and other methods, we plan to continue the negotiations," Foreign Ministry spokesman Kim In-chul said.

Worse, Jeong and his team are now under self-quarantine at home in accordance with the government's enhanced regulations stipulating that government officials who visit a coronavirus-hit country must self-quarantine for 14 days, raising concerns that the government could not make last-ditch efforts to conclude the deal before the deadline for the start of the furlough.


Kang Seung-woo ksw@koreatimes.co.kr


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