SEOUL, March 16 (Korea Bizwire) — A major Chinese airline caused a stir recently when it unilaterally notified Korean flight attendants that they were being laid off.
The dismissed crew members are now preparing for legal action.
China Eastern Airlines Corp. (CEA) notified Korean flight attendants who were on two-year temporary contracts that they were being laid off on March 11. They were scheduled to be converted to regular positions only three days later.
The airline reportedly explained that the South Korea-China route has been hit by the spread of the novel coronavirus, forcing the company to lay off employees.
The sudden notice of dismissal left the crew baffled.
Until now, most Korean part-time flight attendants hired by CEA have been converted to regular positions.
The situation was all the more baffling since the company has taken steps to change the status of temporary workers, including signing new work contracts and scheduling training, for the crew members who were given a notice of dismissal.
Currently, CEA has a total of 200 Korean crew members, including those on temporary contracts.
Upon receiving the dismissal notice this time, the crew will reject individual retirement agreements, while taking legal action, such as an invalidation suit.
One flight attendant, who declined to be identified, said, “The company had promised to switch us to regular positions until recently,” adding that they had not heard the news about the contract being terminated.
In fact, no Italian and Japanese crew members were fired, despite both countries seeing a spike in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases.
Lawyer Choi Jong-yeon, the legal representative of the flight attendants, said, “As the employer has said that the contract will be renewed several times, it seems that the right to expect renewal is an issue that can be recognized,” adding, “under the Labor Standards Act, this should be regarded as dismissal without a justifiable reason.”
Since the coronavirus outbreak was first reported December of last year, CEA has been under fire for scheduling Korean flight attendants to work on Chinese domestic routes, including those to Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak.
The crew and those in political circles are joining the public backlash against CEA.
Rep. Yoon Sang-hyun, head of the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee, expressed regret over the dismissal of the crew and conveyed his wish for CEA to withdraw the decision during a meeting with Chinese Ambassador to Korea Xing Haiming on March 11.
Lee Jae-myung, the governor of Gyeonggi Province, home to 18 of the 73 Korean crew members whose contracts were not extended, is also calling for CEA to take responsibility.
The governor said on his Facebook page on March 12 that “Discrimination made on the grounds of nationality is a matter of national pride” and stressed that
“If CEA’s termination is confirmed to be false, I will mobilize all of Gyeonggi Province’s capabilities to regain the rights of Korean residents and rectify nationality discrimination.”
In fact, the provincial government reportedly sent official documents to Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha, as well as the Chinese Ambassador to Korea and Consul General at Shanghai on the same day, asking them to check whether the unfairly dismissed Korean crew members were indeed fired without proper cause.
Furthermore, the province is taking all possible steps to provide legal support to the falsely dismissed, in order to prove that they were unjustly dismissed. It is also hosting a meeting and filing a suit with the International Labour Organization.
CEA has recently appointed the nation’s top law firm as its legal representative, and maintains its basic position that its inability to extend the contract was inevitable.
D. M. Park (firstname.lastname@example.org)