South Korean guards want pay raise from new employer, threaten strike
SEOUL — Union officials say South Korean security guards at U.S. Forces Korea installations are strongly considering a strike if their new employer doesn’t give them a raise.
C&S Corp. was awarded a contract earlier this month to provide security at a number of USFK bases, replacing another company, G4S, that failed to hire enough guards to staff entry gates during its first four months on the job.
Guards held protests outside USFK bases for months, claiming G4S had unfairly cut their wages and lengthened their work hours. USFK troops were forced to man gates until G4S reached adequate staffing on March 23.
When the military announced Sept. 7 that G4S was being phased out due to contractual failures, guards were initially elated, thinking they had scored a victory.
Many now fear they face another pay cut.
Union leaders say the amount of C&S three-year contract with the military may not be enough to maintain current pay levels, much less increase them.
The $57.3 million C&S contract averages out to $19.1 million per year. The $108.3 million five-year contract with G4S averaged out to $21.66 million per year.
“If C&S will give us the same payment as we’ve had under G4S, why we should work under C&S?” said Park Deok Seo, head of one of three unions representing the guards. He said guards are ready to go on strike if C&S doesn’t give them raises.
“At first, our members thought we had won against G4S,” said Kim Hyunjoong, leader of another union. “But this isn’t a complete victory because we don’t know what will happen with C&S in the future.”
None of the union leaders said they had met with C&S yet, and the company has given them no specifics about pay.
A C&S official last week said the company is still reviewing the matter but does not plan to lower wages. He said he does not know if C&S will increase their pay or alter their work hours.
U.S. Army Installation Management Command Pacific region spokesman Larry Reilly attributed the price difference between the two contracts to their different durations and the estimated number of “overall guard hours the Army anticipated ordering throughout the life of the contract.”
“The exact number of guard hours ordered throughout the life of the contract is unknown and will vary depending on mission requirements,” Reilly said in an emailed statement.
Asked if there was concern that guards might strike, Reilly said the Army reviewed the “reasonableness” of C&S’ proposal by comparing it with bids from other companies and the prices charged by previous contractors.
“Based on this comparison, the government does not consider the prices proposed by C&S to be unreasonably low,” Reilly said.
A G4S official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media, questioned whether C&S would be able to hire enough guards and said more protests are possible. He said G4S submitted a proposal for the contract but was underbid by C&S.
Great Britain-based G4S was also faulted for failing to hire enough guards to fulfill its contract with the London Olympics and has promised to reimburse the British government for the cost of deploying thousands of military personnel to provide security at the Games.
G4S has paid back half of the $750,000 it owes the U.S. government for its contractual failures in South Korea and will repay the rest in January.
Kim Ji-hyoung, another union leader, said he is ready to go on strike although his union has not made a decision yet. He said guards are frustrated with USFK and with what they see as ongoing problems with its security contractors. He faulted the military for repeatedly hiring the lowest bidder, not the company that can do the best job.
“How can USFK ask us to protect the lives of U.S. soldiers and their family members when we work under the worst of conditions?” he said.