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Is Korea`s Construction Competitiveness Declining?

Posted April. 16, 2010 08:28,   


In the 1970s and 80s, Koreans were called hard workers who sweated under the scorching sun at construction fields in the Middle East. Holding tools callused their hands, the sun browned their faces, and dust covered their uniforms.

While looking around the construction fields of Korean builders in Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates March 15-20, The Dong-A Ilbo found that the lives of Korean workers there have significantly changed. The status of Korea’s rapidly improved economy is well reflected in the lives of Koreans working at overseas construction fields.

○ Desert golfing and foreign cooks

“Nice shot!”

Daewoo Engineering & Construction has a repair shipyard in Duqm, Oman. A nine-hole golf course is at the shipyard, which is 500 kilometers away from the Omani capital of Muscat. Since the golf course was built in the desert, it had no hazards such as a forest or lakes. Koreans, however, appeared to enjoy golfing in the desert covered with artificial turf. A Pakistan caddie carried golf clubs for Korean golfers. A Korean worker said, “I enjoy desert golfing early in the morning on weekends when the weather is cool.”

Korean workers stay in prefabs made of container boxes. In the restaurant, a Korean chef and foreign cooks produce Korean food such as bean paste stew, spicy meat stew, and grilled pork belly, foods that are hard to find in the Middle East. The ingredients are directly imported from Korea via container ships every month. Korean workers also talk to their families back home via online Webcam chatting or Internet phone calls during breaks.

○ From manual workers to managers

Daewoo Engineering & Construction employs 103 Koreans at the Duqm construction field, accounting for a mere 4.6 percent of the combined 2,252 workers. Cho Gi-seok, head of the construction field, said, “In the past, Korean workers did manual labor but they now account for a mere two percent of the workers, and are instead in charge of management. That means Korea’s status has improved.”

Korean builders are also hiring workers from the Philippines, Pakistan and Bangladesh at most Mideast construction fields. At the homes where Koreans stay, foreign house or office boys do chores such as laundry, cooking and other errands. A senior manager working at Daewoo’s construction field said, “I have a two-week holiday every four months. Whenever I return home, my wife asks me to do chores such as dishwashing. But I can live like a prince here thanks to houseboys.”

○ Young engineers hesitant to work in remote areas

The improvement in the working conditions of Korean construction workers is a double-edged sword. Most Korean workers are in management instead of working in the field, so fears are growing over a halt to the development and fostering of highly skilled Korean construction engineers. The Chinese, not Koreans, are considered the most industrious workers at construction fields in the Middle East or Africa. This is because young Korean engineers refuse to work in remote areas.

A worker at a construction field in Abu Dhabi said, “Young engineers are hesitant to work abroad, so the average age of a Korean worker at an overseas construction field has increased. Unless young engineers are nurtured, techniques and experience cannot be handed down. If this difficulty is not resolved, Korea will lose its prowess in construction.”