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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on July 5)

All News 07:11 July 05, 2018

Asiana Airlines blamed for exploiting subcontractors

Asiana Airlines' unprecedented "no in-flight meals" problem continued Wednesday for the fourth straight day. This is causing embarrassment not only to the company but also the public which denounced it for alleged unfair practices including the exploitation subcontractors.

Many of the nation's second-largest airline's international flights were delayed or took off undersupplied or without meals for passengers. The absurd situation is a result of Asiana's change of its in-flight caterer from a German Lufthansa subsidiary to Chinese aviation conglomerate HNA Group's Gate Gourmet Korea, a joint venture with the airline.

Allegations have it that Kumho Asiana Group changed suppliers last year because the Lufthansa unit refused the group's demand for an investment of 160 billion won ($143 million) into the cash-strapped conglomerate in return for renewing the supply contract. Gate Gourmet Korea won the contract after HNA Group invested the sum as requested by Kumho Asiana. If these allegations are true, the Korean conglomerate could be punished for breach of trust.

The meal supply problem occurred because a fire at the construction site for the new caterer forced Asiana to look for a substitute. It then signed a three-month contract with Sharp DO & CO, whose five subcontractors are capable of preparing in-flight meals for only 3,000 passengers a day, even though 25,000 people embark on the airline's international flights at Incheon International Airport every day.

The question is why Asiana chose such a small company. The authorities should investigate what was behind such an absurd decision by the airline. Furthermore, a CEO of a subcontractor of Sharp DO & CO committed suicide at his home in Incheon, Monday, under an apparent pressure to produce in-flight meals beyond his company's capacity.

Needless to say, police should conduct a thorough investigation to determine whether Asiana's suspected undue pressure led to the death of the 56-year-old.

There also arises another question about unfair contracts. Under its contract, Asiana is not obliged to pay the full price of the meals if new supplier fails to deliver the meals or delays flights by 15 minutes or longer. In the case of delays of more than 30 minutes, suppliers get paid only half the price of the meal. It is apparent the small supplier cannot comply with the contract under any circumstances.

On Wednesday afternoon, Kumho Asiana Chairman Park Sam-koo apologized for the problem and the suicide of the subcontractor. However, his apology fell short of taking responsibility. The airline's attitude is far from respecting customers, and the public is angry over allegations the family-owned conglomerate has exploited its subcontractors.

The meal fiasco is adding fuel to a series of scandals surrounding the country's No. 1 carrier, Korean Air, and the family members of its Chairman Cho Yang-ho who are suspected of tax evasion, smuggling, embezzlement and abuse of employees and subcontractors. The national flag carriers are not only tarnishing their own brand images, but also bringing shame on Korea.

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