Tuesday, April 26, 2005

New Migrant Worker Union Launched

The Korea Times (below) reported this week on the formation of the new Migrant Trade Union for Seoul, Gyeonggi-do, and Incheon. According to my sources, this has been in the works since the Equality Trade Union sit-in ended in November (see my older ZNET article here). It's nice to see that their ambition has finally come through and the new union is beginning to form. Also in the news on migrant workers this week is a story (below) documenting a warning from the national human rights commission to the immigration bureau regarding human rights infringements toward migrant workers. Anmnesty International had petitioned the government several times on this issue (see their June 2004 statement for example), so it is nice to see some action taken from within the government.

Migrant Workers Launch Union
By Moon Gwang-lipStaff Reporter

Migrant workers staying in South Korea have launched their own labor union to enhance their rights.
The union, named the Seoul Gyeonggi Incheon Migrant Trade Union (MTU), held its inaugural meeting on Monday at the headquarters of a local umbrella union group, Korea Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), in Yongdungpo, southwestern Seoul.
It is composed of 90 migrant workers from Bangladesh, Nepal, the Philippines and Indonesia working in the capital, Inchon and Kyonggi Province.
They joined the union on the spot and nearly 500 another foreign workers also plan to become union members soon, according to the KCTU.
At the meeting, the participants also elected board members including the president, Nd Anwar Hossin, a 34-year-old migrant worker from Bangladesh....

``We made this union to voice the sufferings of migrant workers here and to work to achieve our rights as a laborer,’’ Hossin told The Korea Times.
``Through the union, we specifically aim to improve working conditions of migrant workers in Korea, to dissuade the government from rounding us up and kicking us out of here, and ultimately to make all [illegal] migrant workers here gain legal status,’’ he said in Korean.
Hossin added they would strengthen the basis of the union in the capital region and eventually enlarge it to represent the whole nation.
The union, consisting only of migrant workers, is the first of its kind in Korea, but there had previously been a union designed to assist migrant workers and enhance their rights.
In 2000, the KCTU made a sub union under it, called Equality Trade Union, and worked for the rights of laborers working in specific job areas. Migrant workers were part of the group and some foreign workers joined it also.
``The union was there for several working groups, so it was hard to pay sole attention to migrant workers. So migrant workers concluded they needed a union exclusively for their rights,’’ said Kim Hyuk, deputy director at KCTU’s department for unorganized and contingent workers.
``This is an independent union spontaneously organized by foreign workers, but in the long-term, the KCTU plans to put this union under its wing to help them achieve their rights,’’ Kim said.
The union plans to submit an application for approval to the Ministry of Labor this month or early May.
Many suspect it will not be easy for the union to get approval as around 90 percent of them have overstayed their visas.
``To have a union is the right of workers. We hope the Korean government will take that into consideration,’’ Hossin said.
Kim said, ``We know that getting government approval will not be easy. But even if that’s the case, the union and the KCTU will fight for migrant workers’ rights.’’

Immigration Office Warned Against Abusing Migrant Workers
By Moon Gwang-lipStaff Reporter

The Immigration Bureau’s crackdown on illegal immigration has often led to violations of the human rights of migrant workers, an independent human rights panel said Tuesday.
The National Human Rights Commission advised the Immigration Bureau correct its enforcement activities after reviewing complaints from migrant workers who complained of poor treatment by immigration officials.
A migrant worker from Uzbekistan had said in the complaint filed in January that an official at the Pusan Immigration Bureau beat him, breaking his ribs, while taking him in handcuffs to the office.
For this, the commission requested the prosecution take action against the official and advised the Justice Minister to warn the head of the Pusan Immigration Bureau.
A Korean-Chinese migrant worker filed a similar complaint in February, saying the Yosu Immigration Bureau breached her human rights by holding her in an overcrowded room during investigations.
The commission confirmed that the woman and 17 other foreigners were confined in a room designed to hold only 10 people and advised the Yosu Immigration Bureau observe the capacity rule so as not to breach detainees’ rights.
The commission plans to review whether a revision of the Immigration Law is necessary to root out such human rights infringements when immigration officials take suspected illegal migrant workers in for questioning.
It also plans to conduct a nationwide survey on human rights violations by immigration organizations in order to produce a guideline and protection measures.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Migrant Worker Television Show

Looks like a number of key migrant activists in South Korea have teemed up with RTV, the country's first public access television channel, in order to start a program on migrant's issues there. If you are curious about RTV and their satellite broadcasts here is their english link, or, if interesed in MWTV, the new migrant worker show which had its first episode on April 16th, you can click their link here, in both English and Korean. If you read Korean, there is a Seoul Shinmun article on the show here.

North Korea - General Backgrounder

I'd always thought middle school wasn't over until you could assemble an AK-47.

I've been meaning to post something on North Korea for awhile now, so here's the first post, a general backgrounder. This will be followed by posts on recent changes in North Korea, North-South relations and North-US relations (aka the 'nuclear issue').

Some useful pages worth checking out:

For up to date news on North Korea specifically, NKzone is a good place to go. Bloggers Marmot and Oranckay, provide a great deal of coverage regarding North Korea and its relations with the South and the US, in addition to their news about South Korea in general. Mainstream online newspapers worth checking out include Asia Times (good for long pieces and analysis), the Chosun Ilbo, (good because it doesn't take down its older articles) and the Korea Times.

The Korea Times (one of the two 'tourist disinformation rags', as Oranckay likes to call them) is notable for its inclusion of Andrei Lankov's articles about both North Korean and South Korean history and society. Lankov lived in the North years ago and has examined the Soviet archives on North Korea, and so his articles provide a great deal of information about both countries. Some articles of note include ones about social strata in North Korea, prestigious jobs, police informers, collectivization, North Korea's information blockade, and the early signs of capitalism which have appeared over the past decade. Lankov also recently published his latest book, which examines the clashes within the North Korean leadership in 1956 which led to the North distancing itself from the Soviets and pursuing the Juche philosophy. The introduction can be found here.

Beyond these general links to entire sites, here are some more specific pages worth reading:

To begin with, some required reading: B.R. Myers Mother of All Mothers', an essay and review of 4 recent books about North Korea. Myers studies North Korean literature, and so has a rather unique insight into North Korean society and propaganda.

While we're on the topic of literature, several short stories by North Korean writers can be found here, along with some essays by foreign translators (note - 'Memories of Lily-Colored Photographs' and the poetry are South Korean).

Moving from the literary to the visual, hundreds of North Korean propaganda posters can be found here, and information about visual propaganda in North Korea can be found here. Best of all is the gallery of paintings from a book called 'The Peoples Great Leader', which should give some idea of Kim Il-Sung's god-like stature in North Korea. The religious iconography in these paintings is astounding - about the only thing missing is the 'miracle of the loaves and the fish'.

There are some excellent documentaries about North Korea available as well. 'A State of Mind', a documentary about two girls who take part in mass gymnastics games, is notable for its unprecedented access to the girls' family lives, while 'Children of the Secret State' features hidden camera footage of children starving in the streets of cities near the Chinese border. Both of these (and others, such as the 1989 documentary from which the above photo was taken) can be found by searching on emule.

Hidden cameras have brought all sorts of interesting images out of North Korea lately, but I'll save those for the next post.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Expansion of Irregular Work

This posting should have been up a week ago so please excuse the tardiness, but I was waiting for some new info. Let's start with a recent call from the KCTU for international solidarity with their efforts to defeat the upcoming bill on expanding the use of irregular workers -- find it here. The KCTU is calling for introduction of alternative legislation that will protect the three basic labor rights included in the constitution to cover irregular workers. The 3 rights are the right to organize, to negotiate, and to take collective action. In order to push forward with these demands, the KCTU coordinated General Strikes on November 6, 2004 and on April 1, 2004. Here's a few stories from the Korean press and others on these events (1., 2., 3., 4.). [update] There is also a story in the Herald today [April 15] on how safeguards for non-regular workers have, to date, been largely ineffective (click here). Therefore, one wonders if the government's new policy will only further extend exploitive practices.

Migrant workers, who also have a precarious situation similar to irregular workers, have also been in the news recently, it seems that there is some progress, at least, being made in terms of health care access (see here). I've also included this short op-ed from the left-ish daily the Hankyoreh (if only my Korean were better I'd subscribe). It basically sums up the main tension between national sovereignty and civil rights. The former always seems to trump the later, and until there is more protection and an honest assessment of how South Korea hopes to deal with migrant workers in the long run, conflicts as described here are bound to continue.

More later...