News & Statements

COVID-19 Crisis: Fighting to Protect Incheon Airport-Yeongjong area Workers


KPTU Calls on the South Korean Government to Declare the Yeongjong-Incheon Airport Region an 'Employment Crisis Zone'

On March 23, the Korean Public Service and Transport Workers' Union (KPTU) and its members working at Incheon International Airport (ICN) held a press conference calling on the government to Yeongjong Island, which houses ICN and the surrounding community an 'Employment Crisis Zone'.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, the number of passengers using ICN has decreased by 95% from roughly 200 thousand a day to roughly 10 thousand. 70 thousand workers employed in in various jobs at the airport are facing severe job insecurity. The Incheon International Airport Authority (IIAC) estimates that it will lose roughly KRW 566.4 billion (USD 459.6 million) in revenue (KRW 473.7 billion in passenger and air travel and KRW 92.7 billion in non-air-travel related revenue) due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Insecurity is felt particularly deeply by workers employed by low-cost carriers, many of which have completely shut downs, and by subcontracted workers. This distress gets worse the farther down a worker is on the contracting chain. For example, cabin cleaners employed by EK Manpower, a subcontractor contracted with Korean Air&rsquos ground handling subsidiary Korea Airport Service (KAS), are facing layoffs. Asiana ground handling and cabin cleaners, also employed by a second tier subcontracted company, are being pressure to accept voluntary early retirement or face layoffs starting in May.

Precariously employed workers at hotels, duty free shops and other establishments in and around the airport whose business is tied to ICN's passenger base are facing illegal layoffs. This means generalised regional insecurity.

According to government-sponsored research from 2019, 30.4% of companies whose business is connected to ICN are subcontractors or temp agencies. 49.4% employ workers on precarious terms and 50.6% are SMEs. Protection for workers in these small companies, many of which are under the control of airlines at the top of the chain, is essential to overcome the crisis at ICN.

The South Korean government has begun providing support for the maintenance of employment in effected industries including air passenger transport. However, many ground handling and other subcontracting companies are not registered as air passenger transport businesses. Access to other funds is becoming available, but companies have to apply for these funds and cover partial payments, which they are refusing to do.

To avoid disaster in Yeongjong, KPTU is calling on the Korean government to the entire Yeongjong area an employment crisis zone and tailor a plan to ensure protection for all low-wage precarious workers in the region. Part of this plan must involve extracting promises from employers who receive support to maintain employment and continued monitoring and enforcement by the government. This could take the form of a 60-day no layoffs period as being implemented in Italy, Denmark and the UK.

To meet the challenges of this extraordinary period, KPTU has opened its legal clinic in Yeongjong to any worker in need of assistance regardless of what job they do, and is moving to establish a campaign structure that will bring workers together across occupational boundaries to fight for, win, monitor and enforce protections on a region-wide basis.