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A band aid for a long-term problem

Is Korea’s opening its doors to foreign hires for their shipbuilding sector a lasting solution?

In a mission to address the manpower crunch due to their own doing, Korea is now open to having foreign workers at their shipyards to fulfil the list of newbuilding orders. However, how much assurance do the workers have even if they manage to get into the shipyards?

Deep wounds may fester
While the republic is taking measures to boost manpower at shipyards, it is an obvious band aid which may not sit well with locals. Data from Korea Offshore Shipbuilding Association (KOSHIPA) revealed that the number of workers in the shipbuilding industry more than halved over the past eight years to 92,000 last year, down from 203,000 in 2014 when the industry was booming. The association said the industry will be 9,500 workers short in September 2022 since local firms will begin processing advance shipbuilding orders from the first half of this year.

Korea plans to grant 4,428 skilled foreign shipyard workers jobs at 335 small businesses partnering with 7 local shipbuilding and marine companies, as the government eases rules on the E-7 visa. Eligible candidates are welders, painters, electrical engineers and plant engineers. The measure will be implemented at the request of local shipbuilders and municipalities in the country’s southeastern coastal regions, prompted by a short-term, acute workforce shortage amid a rapid recovery in global shipping demand recently.

Overlooking quality concerns?
This may be a much-awaited rebound momentum for Korean shipbuilders whose global top status was lost due to years of an industry-wide slowdown. Companies however welcomed the rule. “This will help mitigate the labour shortage in the industry, thereby assisting local businesses regain the global top market player status,” said a spokesperson for a shipbuilder.

Taking it further, mismanagement led to the mass resignation. If companies are not prepared to address its internal issues, it is unlikely any additional measures will yield benefits. Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering Company (DSME) notably lost some 300 workers to Hyundai Heavy Industries Holdings (HHIH), which was said to offer better remuneration. For HHIH migrants, there would still be a strong sense of indignance to watch employment prospects improve after jumping ship. It remains to be seen if Korea’s shipbuilding quality would be compromised with this band aid.

Marine Online News Team
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