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Nine foreign workers stop reporting to work at HD HHI shipbuilders

Nine foreign workers of Thai nationality hired by HD Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) have stopped showing up for work only a week after being hired at the shipbuilder’s shipyard in Ulsan.

HD HHI confirmed Wednesday that seven of the workers, all Thai nationals, have not reported to work since April 25, a week after joining HHI as contractors in mid-April. Additionally, two other Thai workers who were hired as subcontractors have not reported to work since around the same period.

The workers entered Korea on E-7 visas. The E-7 visa restricts employment without the original employer’s consent.

HD HHI attributed the departure of the foreign workers to “personal issues.”

“We are providing various welfare benefits, including interpretation services, counseling, and customized diets to help the workers to adapt to their new environment,” HD HHI said.
The labor union of HHI, however, blamed the physically demanding nature of the job and relatively inadequate wages at the shipyard.

“The demanding nature of the work and low wages at the shipyard led to some workers leaving,” an official from the labor union of HD HHI said.

In their newsletter issued on Friday, the union emphasized that the monthly wages for foreign workers under the E-7 visa scheme amount to around 80 percent of the Korean gross national income, approximately 2.6 million won ($1,980). Yet this is considered close to the minimum wage when factoring in the strenuous shipyard work, it said.

A similar case occurred in September 2022 when more than 30 foreign workers did not show up for work at the Ulsan shipyard, prompting authorities to track them down. In such situations, employers are required to report to the relevant immigration office, which then conducts investigations and may cancel the workers’ stay permits if they do not return.

In response to a labor shortage, the local government and shipbuilding companies in Ulsan, home to several major shipyards, are making concerted efforts to attract workers. Shipbuilders have been organizing on-site job fairs that prioritize recruitment regardless of factors like age, education, or gender.

Despite government assistance and the hiring of foreign workers by HD HHI and Mipo Dockyard, there are still more than 2,000 job vacancies due to the reluctance of individuals to engage in the physically demanding on-site work.

The recent job fair held at Ulsan Hyundai Hotel on May 4 reflected the lukewarm response to shipyard jobs. While over 20 partner companies of HD HHI aimed to hire 120 workers, only 11 individuals were recruited, according to their labor union.

HHI emphasized its benefits to lure new workers, even for those from partner companies, which total over 160 organizations. The company offers daily wages ranging from 140,000 to 240,000 won, an annual scholarship of 5.75 million won, an annual housing loan interest of 1.5 million won, and free meals as part of its comprehensive support measures.

“Shipbuilding requires outdoor work and the wages are not particularly high,” Lee Kyung-woo, a researcher at the Ulsan Research Institute, said indicating the reasons behind the departure of workers.

“The labor shortage was already predicted during the 2016 restructuring of the shipbuilding industry, and it is projected to take another four to five years to address the manpower shortage,” Lee said.
Source: JoongAng Daily

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