SEOUL — South Korean employees working for the U.S. military will not face furloughs next month, even if Seoul does not ratify a defense cost-sharing agreement with the United States, U.S. Forces Korea announced Wednesday.
As many as 8,500 employees, or about 70 percent of all Korean employees on the peninsula, could have been affected by furloughs starting as early as April 1.
A statement issued Wednesday by USFK said there would be “no personnel actions” due to funding shortfalls related to the Special Measures Agreement. Korean employees would continue to receive pay, with the U.S. making up the funding shortfall.
“USFK is working closely with the U.S. Department of Defense and the Republic of Korea Ministry of National Defense and is confident that a funding solution will be found,” the statement said.
USFK would not address whether the matter would be reconsidered at some point.
In January, the U.S. and South Korea agreed on a new SMA that increases Seoul’s annual contributions toward the upkeep of U.S. troops on the peninsula by about 6 percent, to 920 billion won, or about $861 million. Under the new agreement, yearly increases due to inflation will be capped at 4 percent.
The five-year deal was signed Feb. 2 by U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Sung Kim and South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se. It must be ratified by South Korea’s National Assembly before it goes into effect.
Some South Korean lawmakers, however, have argued that the SMA should be renegotiated and include additional provisions to increase oversight of USFK’s use of the money. Negotiations over the SMA began last summer but dragged on because of disagreement over how much Seoul should contribute and oversight concerns.
The Korean government pays as much as 71 percent of the salaries of the U.S. military’s Korean employees. But in late February, with the National Assembly not expected to address the matter until April at the earliest, USFK warned that “uninterrupted employment (of Korean employees) is contingent upon the Republic of Korea’s timely ratification of the SMA.”
However, USFK said Wednesday that while the South Korean government “may not provide its normal contribution, we have decided to provide interim funding from U.S. sources in order to maintain operational readiness and keep faith with the Korean National work force.”
It added: “Korean National employees are an important part of the USFK team and play a key role in maintaining operations, and in the combined defense of the Republic of Korea.”
The previous SMA was signed in January 2009, setting South Korea’s contribution for that year at about $775 million, with provisions for increases for inflation in following years. Under the new agreement, USFK must submit an annual report on SMA funds to the National Assembly, and the South Korean government must approve every contract that uses SMA funds.