News/Korea: Korea to Address Plight of Foreign Workers

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Subject: News/Korea: Korea to Address Plight of Foreign Workers
From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Fri Jul 07 2000 - 12:34:49 EDT


Korea to Address Plight of Foreign Workers
By Lee Dong-min
Yonhap News Agency, May 1, 2000

Seoul, May 1 (Yonhap) -- President Kim Dae-jung's message on Saturday to
ensure fair treatment for foreign workers could provide a ray of hope for
some 232,000 alien laborers who came here to chase the Korean Dream.''
Discrimination against foreign workers in Korea and violation of their
human rights are serious and shameful problems from the point of a country
aiming to become one that respects human rights,'' Kim told officials of
the ruling Millennium Democratic Party (MDP).

His attention on the matter indicates how serious the situation has become.
Reports of physically maimed and even crippled foreign laborers from
work-related injuries, employers withholding salary and testimonies of
physical and psychological abuse are commonplace.

The Labor Ministry said of the estimated 232,000 foreign workers in the
country, over 148,000 are illegal aliens.

The status of the legal foreign workers is also dubious. Our labor laws do
not acknowledge foreign workers. They are classified as industrial
trainees, which place them in a rather hazy category in terms of their
status and rights,'' a Justice Ministry official said.

Foreigners apply as industrial trainees to come to South Korea, but end up
leaving their original jobs because of low wages. Many of them become
illegal aliens searching for higher pay.

The trainees also get duped by brokers who arrange jobs in South Korea.

For those who sneak in as or become illegal aliens, the results can prove
horrifying. Many employers take advantage of their illegal status to hold
back wages and demand excessive work hours.

The situation is no better for people of Korean heritage.

An ethnic Korean from China who worked at a factory in Puchon, Kyonggi
Province, for one and a half years lost four of his fingers on his right
hand while working.

He left after a brief hospitalization under the threat of his employer. The
worker received just 2 million won ($1,800) for 18 months of work and later
had to pay 1 million won as a fine for staying in Korea illegally.

Such horrifying stories have led to a signature drive by ethnic Koreans in
China to demand compensation and status settlement by the South Korean
government for their brethrens.

Reports of the inhumane treatment of foreign workers have proved
embarrassing for President Kim, who seeks to enact a human rights bill this
year as a major policy objective.

The MDP, acting on President Kim's orders, is expected to introduce a
system under which employers can officially hire foreigners as employees
rather than trainees. The measure could go far in guaranteeing fair
treatment and blocking workers from going underground.

MDP officials said they will start consulting with the opposition party to
give foreign workers the same insurance and compensation benefits as
domestic workers and strengthen protection against abusive employers.
Melanie Orhant <<morhant@igc.org>>
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