SEOUL, May 10 (Korea Bizwire) — South Korean shipyards are suffering from a labor shortage due mainly to massive layoffs years earlier, stoking concerns over output disruptions amid bumper orders, industry sources Tuesday.
The local shipbuilding industry had a combined workforce of some 93,000 as of the end of last year, down a whopping 54 percent from seven years earlier, according to the Korea Offshore & Shipbuilding Association.
The tumble results largely from large-scale layoffs that local shipbuilders carried out to cope with tumbling ship orders five to six years ago.
The shipbuilding industry cut their payrolls by 17.5 percent in 2016 and 35.4 percent a year later as part of desperate efforts to navigate the so-called order cliff.
In addition, local shipyards’ manpower shortage has been worsening as many of those laid-off engineers have landed jobs at land plants or foreign shipbuilding companies with better working conditions and are reluctant to return, watchers said.
The intensifying manpower shortage is feared to seriously undercut the competitiveness of the country’s shipbuilding companies amid a recent surge in liquefied natural gas (LNG) carriers and other vessels, they said.
According to global market researcher Clarkson Research Service, global orders for LNG carriers hit a new quarterly high of 299.86 million compensated gross tons (CGTs), or 37 vessels, in the January-March period in the wake of Russia’s attack on Ukraine.
South Korean shipyards, including Korea Shipbuilding & Offshore Engineering Co. (KSOE), accounted for more than 90 percent of global orders for high-value added LNG carriers, in which they are highly competitive.
Local shipyards have been basking in a jump in orders from foreign shipowners this year, clinching the world’s top spot in new orders in the first quarter.
Local shipyards bagged 4.57 million CGTs in new orders in the three-month period, or 50 percent of the global total at 9.2 million CGTs, Clarkson Research Service.
It represents the first time in seven years that South Korean shipbuilders have ranked first in new global orders in the first quarter. Chinese shipbuilders came next with 3.86 million CGTs, taking up 42 percent of the world total.
So far this year, KSOE, a subholding company of global shipbuilding titan Hyundai Heavy Industries Holdings, has won orders to construct 87 ships worth $10.08 billion, or 57.8 percent of its $17.44 billion yearly target.
Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering Co., the world’s No. 4 shipyard by order backlog, has bagged orders for 18 vessels worth $4.18 billion so far this year, achieving 47 percent of this year’s order target of $8.9 billion.
Amid an acute dearth of local shipyards’ manpower, the government has announced plans to sharply ease visa requirements for foreign engineers to help resolve the problem.
Industry sources said South Korean shipbuilders have no choice but to employ foreign workers as a labor shortage disrupts production amid record ship orders.