By Riyaz ul Khaliq
ANKARA (AA) – Thousands of South Korean workers working for the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) have been sent on unpaid leave for indefinite period amid a deadlock in defense cost-sharing talks between the two allies, local media reported.
This came as Seoul and Washington failed to end the stalemate over new Special Measures Agreement (SMA) that stipulates as to how much South Korea would pay for the upkeep of the 28,500-strong U.S. forces in the country.
“Today, approximately half of the USFK Korean National employee workforce has been furloughed due to a lapse in the Special Measures Agreement," Yonhap news agency quoted USFK Commander Gen. Robert Abrams as saying.
Estimated 4,000 South Korean personnel were furloughed, according to the USFK Employees' Union.
It is the first time that South Korean workers have been sent on unpaid leave since the establishment of the USFK in 1957.
Calling for urgent normalization of the situation, the union leaders in a news conference said: "The livelihoods of (Korean) workers have been hit hard by the collapse of the talks with the U.S., particularly at a time when it is difficult to find day labor or part-time jobs due to the new coronavirus outbreak. This will also have a clear impact on the local economy around U.S. bases."
U.S. has been calling on Seoul to increase its share in costs for upkeep of USFK.
Last year in March, the two countries had signed a SMA under which both sides agreed on 8.2% hike in Seoul’s share of the cost.
South Korea had agreed to pay 1.04 trillion won ($920 million) in 2019 for the operation of the USFK, up from 960 billion won ($853 million) the previous year.
The agreement expired at the end of the year.