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.


  1. There are people within the Immigration Branch itself who argue that Korea must become a "nation of immigrants," and soon.

    Of course this will not prevent the MOJ from punishing those who dare challenge the state of things ...

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