U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) began notifying 5,000 South Korean employees today that they would be furloughed (temporarily laid off) starting April 1, as defense cost-sharing talks between the two countries remain stalled.
The two sides have been negotiating a new Special Measures Agreement (SMA) that stipulates how much Seoul should pay to maintain the 28,500-strong USFK. Salaries of about 9,000 South Korean employees are also funded under the agreement, Yonhap News reported.
The latest round of negotiations which took place last week in Los Angeles failed to arrive at a settlement. While the United States stuck to its demand for US$4 billion, Seoul's offered to pay less than a quarter of that, diplomatic sources told South Korean media.
USFK began sending out furlough notices to about 4,500-5,000 workers ahead of the April 1 temporary layoffs, an official said. In the notice, the U.S. Department of the Army said that "the reasons for the furlough remain valid," as there were "no remaining funded positions in your competitive area to which you have a placement right."
During the furlough period, the employees "will not be permitted to serve as an unpaid volunteer, must remain away from their workplace, and are prohibited from performing any work-related duties," the letter read.
South Korea has proposed a separate agreement to first address the wage issue, but the U.S. rejected the move stressing on a comprehensive deal, according to Seoul's top negotiator Jeong Eun-bo.
In protest of the move, the labor union of the Korean employees called for the revision of rules on the defense cost-sharing deal and a broader related system so as to better guarantee their labor rights.