South Korean shipbuilders hit by welder crisis as over 1,000 Vietnamese workers denied entry
More than 1,000 Vietnamese workers have been denied entry to South Korea over forged documents, leaving shipbuilders short of labor and at risk of penalties for delays in ship deliveries.
Local media reports a total of 1,150 welders from Vietnam scheduled to work at shipyards from the fourth quarter were refused admittance after several labour brokers were discovered to have provided false documentation, including those related to education and work experience.
With massive newbuild orders in South Korea this year and a lack of manpower, subcontractors of local shipbuilders have been sourcing foreign welders, painters, electrical engineers and plant engineers from unlicensed brokers. The demand for foreign welders alone soared to close to 3,000 this year, as welding accounts for the majority of the entire shipbuilding process.
Vietnam supplies over 40% of the total demand for foreign welders in South Korea, which has a work visa requirement of a minimum of two years of experience. A reported probe into employment agencies found the welders were missing the approval of the Vietnamese ministry of labor and cheated on their educational background or career, which led to a re-examination of the entire workforce.
Around 420 subcontractors of the country’s five largest shipbuilders have warned of declining earnings and that the shipbuilders will have to pay compensation for delayed newbuilds such as LNG carriers and containerships if the shortage of foreign workers is prolonged. According to the Korea Offshore & Shipbuilding Association (KOSHIPA), the shortage of skilled workers is expected to reach over 11,000 in June next year, with an additional 36,000 workers being needed by 2027.
The South Korean government said it is consulting with the Vietnamese Embassy in Korea and the Vietnamese government to resolve the issue of introducing the E-7 visa to Vietnamese welders as soon as possible. If the Vietnamese authorities go through re-examination and permit it, entry will be possible in December at the earliest, a shipbuilding source told local news agencies.
In the meantime, work is underway with Thailand, Sri Lanka and Indonesia to substitute the welders. The country’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy said some 3,000 workers are expected to arrive sequentially from November until early next year.