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Lines and chaos as 80 airport screeners resign

Jan 13,2020
Airport security employees quit en masse at the beginning of the year, bringing havoc to airports nationwide. Boarding was delayed and some travelers missed their flights.

On Jan. 1, a group of 80 security check-point personnel at Gimhae International Airport, Gimpo International Aiport and Jeju International Airport resigned. In one fell swoop, the airports lost nearly a tenth of their security screening workers.

These workers, who screen passengers and their bags, had been initially employed by a contracting company providing security services to the airports, but they were transferred to an affiliate company of the Korea Airports Corporation (KAC) at the beginning of year.

The shortage of security check point officers has been causing about confusion in the airports, causing a bottleneck in the processing of passengers.

One Jan. 2, dozens of passengers at Gimpo airport faced check-in delays and missed flights. On Jan. 4, airline employees at the Gimhae airport had to go in search of missing passengers, causing the flight’s takeoff to be delayed 10 minutes.

A traveler surnamed Kim, arrived at Gimhae airport in Busan at 6 p.m. on Jan. 5, well ahead of his departure time, but barely boarded on time.

“I arrived at the Gimhae airport two hours and 30 minutes ahead of my flight to Danang and was shocked when I saw the line,” said Kim. “It took two hours just to get through departure procedures, and I had to rush through dinner afterwards and boarded the flight barely on time.”

As travelers continued to be inconvenienced, the KAC hired substitute workers-12 for Gimpo airport and five for Gimhae. Jeju airport, where there is no labor union, forced its security officers to work extra hours.

“A year ahead of the company becoming a subsidiary of the Korea Airports Corporation, we requested the number of workers to be increased,” said a Gimpo International Airport security agent surnamed Yo. “But we were ignored.”

The situation is a result of the KAC’s attempt to abide by the government’s policy of switching temporary workers to permanent workers at public institutions. Security check duties had previously been left to a contracted security service company, but these duties were taken over by an affiliate company. However, despite being under a KAC affiliate company, there were no improvements in conditions for the workers, and a group of 80 security officials quit together. Many of the workers who quit were young, in their 20s and 30s. They had high expectations from the policy but were disillusioned after they saw no change in their treatment.

A security check workers’ labor union official told the JoongAng Ilbo Friday, “Substitute workers are filling in because the existing workers were not complying. While it looks like security check points are operating normally, the existing workers are being saddled with more responsibility. A fundamental solution to the problem is urgent.”

The labor union official said that monthly wages for the workers was around 2.1 million won, around the same amount as wages for short-term, part-time employees at the airport.

“There was a considerable sense of deprivation compared to the treatment KAC officials get,” he added. “There is one hour of break time per day, but it is more common not to be able to rest. There are no paid vacation days and barely any incentives, and because of the high intensity of the job, nearly half of new employees quit within a year.”

As the situation worsened, officials from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport visited Gimpo airport last Wednesday to check on the situation.

A Transport Ministry official said, “We are confirming the facts amid a report from the KAC that the airports are in chaos from the beginning of the year. We have also met with four security check officers to listen to their views.” A joint plan with the KAC was expected to be announced Monday.

Because Lunar New Year’s holiday begins later this month, it is urgent to come up with follow-up measures immediately.

A KAC official said, “In cases where passengers temporarily surge, we will try to find short-term manpower, but we will have to discuss how we are going to hire them. We will also announce plans for how to deal long-term with shortage of security check workers.”

The union representing the security workers are calling for a dramatic increase in the number of workers and better working conditions for them.

BY LEE EUN-JI, SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]


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