KAL’s former flyboys sue over training

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KAL’s former flyboys sue over training

Former pilots of Korean Air Lines who claim the company forced unfair contract terms on them, have taken the company to court.

According to the labor union of Korean Air on Thursday, three former pilots for the nation’s leading carrier filed a lawsuit in April with the Seoul Southern District Court, seeking refunds of 85 million won ($71,430) to 93 million won each that the pilots paid for a required training program. All of the pilots worked for the company for six years.

In the past, Korean Air required would-be pilots to complete entry or mid-level training programs in the United States and a high-level training program on Jeju Island. Together, the training took two years. The U.S. training cost 100 million won and the training in Jeju cost 170 million won. Would-be pilots signed contracts saying they would pay for the U.S. program themselves while the company would pay in advance for the Jeju training and deduct the 170 million won from their salaries over 10 years. A condition of the contract was that the pilots had to work for 10 years at Korean Air. Five percent of 170 million won was deducted for each of the first three years of service, and the figure rose to seven percent for the fourth to sixth years of service and 16 percent for the seventh to 10th years of service.

The system was changed recently. Now, only candidates who finish the entry and mid-level training programs in the United States on their own are eligible to apply for a job. The advanced-level training program is provided after pilots join the company on the same terms as before.

The three pilots, including one surnamed Kim, signed the training contracts with Korean Air in 2004 and 2005 and joined the company after finishing two years of training. They left the company in 2013 and 2014 ? short of the ten years needed to fully repay the training fees. At the request of the company, the pilots refunded the balances of 85 million won to 93 million won.

In their suit, the pilots claim that this is unfair and want to get their refunds back for the money.

“As a large conglomerate, the company is capable of giving full financial support for the training program, but it forced pilots to return money if employees did not meet the 10-year service term,” the plaintiffs said in their complaint. “It is an unfair contract [that limits the freedom of changing jobs].”

Korean Air said there was no problem with the contracts.

“We helped people who couldn’t afford the expensive training fees and we are very embarrassed that such a case is going to court, since we have been operating like this for decades,” a spokesman for the company told the Korea JoongAng Daily. “We believe our financial aid-like program offers great chances to so many people to become pilots, and we are one of the very few airlines that offer such help. Foreign companies never provide anything like this. We want people to know how they can become pilots.”

BY KWON SANG-SOO [kwon.sangsoo@joongang.co.kr]
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