Security guards protesting Army's new contract with security firm in South Korea
SEOUL — Some gates at several major U.S. Forces Korea bases were closed on Thursday, the first day of protests by South Korean security guards who are refusing to work for a new company they claim is offering low wages and long work hours.
Soldiers at some bases staffed entry gates, though 8th Army spokesman Col. Andrew Mutter declined to say how many troops were involved. He said the gate closures had caused “very minor disruptions” at some high-volume entrances, but the protests remained peaceful.
The military’s contract with the new company, G4S, went into effect at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday. Since then, only 60 of the approximately 850 guards who worked for the previous security provider, Joeun Systems Corp., have agreed to sign contracts with G4S, said Park Deok Seo, head of a labor union representing the guards.
Park said the guards want USFK to negotiate a new contract with another company.
G4S officials did not return phone calls seeking comment Thursday.
Mutter said the military was engaged in “continuous discussions with G4S to ensure that they are complying with the contract,” but would not comment on issues discussed in the meetings.
He said the military was not holding talks with the guards or their labor unions.
“Our contract is with G4S,” he said.
The effect of the protests was visible at some bases. In front of Camp Red Cloud in Uijeongbu, about 50 protesters were cordoned off by a handful of South Korean police as they chanted slogans and waved signs. Across the street, soldiers manned the entry gate.
At U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan in Seoul, the flagship U.S. military base in South Korea, six of 11 gates were closed and one had limited hours, according to the base’s website.
More than 420 guards held protests Thursday outside six USFK bases, according to another union official: Yongsan, Camp Red Cloud in Uijeongbu, Camp Henry in Taegu, Camp Carroll in Waegwan, Camp Casey in Dongducheon and Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek. The official said guards were also planning demonstrations outside a military supply site in Busan and in front of G4S headquarters in Seoul.
Yoo Kyong Chang and Jon Rabiroff contributed to this story.