Business & Economy

Foreign pilots denounce ‘degrading’ treatment by South Korean carrier Asiana

By Andrés Sánchez Braun

Seoul, Aug 7 (efe-epa).- A group of foreign pilots whose contracts were terminated by South Korean airline Asiana have spoken to EFE about what they deem to be “degrading” and discriminatory treatment by the company, which refuses to compensate them for five months of unpaid salaries.

In early March, with the pandemic sweeping across the globe and air routes shutting down, Asiana told about 90 of its 120 foreign pilots (the other 30 have continued to regularly fly 747s, which are being used for cargo) that they would have to take a full month’s unpaid leave in each of the upcoming months and that this situation would probably continue for some time.

Korean pilots and the rest of the staff at the air carrier, which has been in the red for some time and is currently in the midst of a complex acquisition bid by real estate group Hyundai Development, were able to opt instead for unpaid leave of 15 days a month.

Most of the foreign pilots chose not to terminate their contracts and accepted the conditions since, to begin with, South Korean law does not prevent discrimination based on nationality.

On the other hand, all foreign Asiana pilots have a contract through recruitment agencies (which technically employ them and, in many cases, advised them against making any “quick” decisions), meaning their ability to bargain with Asiana is virtually non-existent.

During the following months, the company was in direct contact with the foreign pilots telling them periodically that their unpaid leave periods were being extended.

At the beginning of their leave, some pilots were staying with their families outside of South Korea and, as the airline requested, chose to return to their homes in the Asian country with the prospect of going back to work at some point.

In July, the recruitment agencies gave Aug. 9 as the termination date of their contracts and said that Asiana had refused to offer any kind of additional payment despite them having gone five months without pay.

The only thing the airline has covered during this period is, as stated in their contracts, rent.

“They wanted us to save ourselves for them. We have been waiting here for months, without looking for jobs and covering all of our families’ expenses,” one of the pilots told EFE.

Like the rest of those affected, he requested anonymity, underlining that, despite the termination of their contracts, pilots are subject to confidentiality clauses imposed by the airlines.

“Foreign pilots have always given extra for Asiana, but that extra has not been taken into account and we’re being treated in a highly degrading and humiliating way,” another pilot said.

They are also outraged by the company, according to them, continuing to include them in flight rosters despite the fact that they were on leave and, at the same time hasn’t provided the training which is indispensable for them to be able to fly.

One of the requirements in order for them to be able to keep the validity of their licenses and qualifications and the so-called “recent experience” – all of them essential in order to be allowed to fly an aircraft – was to use the company’s simulators, something that they say Asiana has not allowed them to do.

“We are the only big losers here,” said another of the pilots, of whom several are over 50 years old and therefore facing an even more uncertain future due to the age limitations imposed by airlines when it comes to new hires.

Underlining the delicate acquisition process the company is going through, an Asiana spokesperson told EFE that at this time the corporation is “unable” to respond to any questions related to this matter, including the suspicion held by those affected that the airline has started hiring new Korean pilots. EFE-EPA


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