Wednesday, August 24, 2005

New zones of hope and discontent?

Interesting story in today's (Aug 25th) Joongang Ilbo about workplace accidents at the inter-Korean industrial complex in Kaesong, North Korea. The complex is a joint project between North and South Korea and as of July employed about 2400 North Koreans.

The report by the ministry of unification described a string of incidents beginning in late October when a North Korean construction worker fell to his death. The article reports that "further industrial accidents occurred this year. In January, four people were injured in separate accidents. Three among them lost fingers. In June, a worker suffered a burn, and the accidents have continued. The ministry said 10 accidents have occurred so far, including the deadly fall of last year."

The ministry goes on to cite a lack of safety awareness among North Korean workers using South Korean machinery. Also interesting is the fact that because North Korean workers are paying social welfare insurance to North Korea, worth about 15 percent of their wages; South Korea is not providing a separate compensation to these workers.

I'm curious how this issue will continue to evolve. On the one hand, the new complex up in Kaesong has been lauded by many to be an positive step of engagement between the South and the North, perhaps leading the North towards a reform trajectory similiar to China's. However there is the issue of the exploitation of a cheap and captive labour force without proper compensation -- does anyone even know if North Korea has an operating worker's compensation system? Basically, I'm curious, and perhaps sceptical as to how services will be provided to these workers.

It will be interesting how South Korean unions begin to respond to developments in this new zone, whether or not they will be able to influence the rights of workers there or not. How North Korean workers respond when problems arise will also be of note. I imagine tight tabs are probably kept on some of these workers, but as with any transnational space, there is the chance for greater information flow between workers from both countries (see our earlier post with a link concerning the possible marriage of two workers in the zone at Kaesong or this story about the potential for increased tourism in the area), although it will probably appear in Korean before it appears in English, so if any of you, our dear readers, see anything please let us know. For our part, we'll try to keep up on the info as well.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Corruption and the EPS

Here's a story that Matt brought to my attention looking at corruption in the new EPS system, a topic I mentioned in my last post. The article claims that bribery in sending countries has been one source of slowness in the system:

Ever since last August, when Korea adopted a new work permit system for foreign laborers, the process of recruiting workers has mostly been handled by the governments in the workers' home countries, including Indonesia. And corruption in some of those governments has become a serious problem for the program. To work in Korea, applicants in Indonesia typically wind up having to pay government officials the equivalent of 4 million won ($3,900) to 7 million won, which is about 40 to 70 times a typical worker's monthly income. Before the new work permit system, the workers had to pay about 2 million won.

The important point here is that (...) there has been a transition from a recruitment-based system run by Korean firms, to a recruitment-based system run jointly by recieving and sending countries. In my pessimistic opinion, it just seems that rent seeking and bribery, already a feature in most migrant sending locales, is simply becoming more visible in this case. Indonesia has an elaborate recruitment system already, comprising recruiters that work with local, regional, and national agencies. What has changed is that the older Korean recruiters (KITCO, ATCO) are no longer part of the chain as the Korean government now recruits directly. I guess direct government recruitment ends up politicizing corruption along the chain, as governments, legitimately, face more public scrutiny, and it dampens any image of equality or fairness in the recruitment process. Hopefully, then, the government could put pressure to ensure more fairness in the process, but looking at how pervasive this kind of behavior is, I doubt that significant changes will be made.

As for the jump in price in bribes for migration. This is most likely because the EPS is a higher quality 'product' offerring more job security and rights than the old trainee system, which basically was a ticket to becoming an illegal worker as the majority of trainees fled their workplaces.

In case you are interested, below is a diagram of the process of hiring foreign workers from the EPS website. It shows foreign government's role in the process quite clearly. What is also rather interesting is the criteria for selecting sending-countries. In the past it has been countries with which Korea has economic links, and this continues, except things like rates of overstayers seem to influence quotas. Here is a document from the EPS site discussing this directly. On the creepier side of things, here is the link to the government's online form to report illegal immigrants.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

All the news that's fit to blog

I feel like we're becoming more of news site than a social movement tracker these days, but what can you do? Here's a bunch of news and quasi-analysis on some of the migrant issues we've been covering the past few months.

Organizing Migrant Workers

It seems like the migrant worker television project is going ahead well with new broadcasts including multilingual migrant and world news. Here is a link to their latest news in English, where you can read that the number of undocumented workers is now back to near 50% of the total migrant population. There are also some stories concerning workplace accidents and other issues that help paint a picture of some of the social conditions that migrants often find themselves in. Good work MWTV!

Organizing Migration

In other migrant news, here is a story and here is an editorial titled Foreign Workers Needed about the EPS system that has been in place for over a year now, complaining that the system works too slow and undocumented numbers are rising again. Many hoped that the EPS would get everyone legally recognized and provide a fresh start on the migrant issue. However, as we reported earlier, the EPS was only selectively offered to undocumented migrants, and some of its rules have caused others to become 'illegal' by basically changing their workplace.


I wonder also if the slowness of the EPS relates more to the encouragement of employers prefering to use non-permitted workers and thus helping to create conflict between policymakers, especially between the coursts and the ministries of justice and labor. The Korean Federation of Small and mid-size Businesses (KFSB) basically brokered most of the migrant flow to Korea to date through KITCO and now through ATCO (an "Alien Traing Corp"). KITCO may not be around anymore as the government is suppossed to take over the brokerage of flows to Korea, but its chairmen used to be retired justice ministry (who handle immigration) officials. I'm curious how close their connections remain since the EPS started. I'll have to do some more research on this one.

Finally, here's a story on some news programs and residency status for foreign females married to Koreans. Interesting, however, that the same rights aren't being given to foreign males.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Update -- Blogger deported, Anwar Hossain, migrant hospital, summer strike news

Following up on last weeks story and few other items:

(1) Its seems Christian was deported back to Germany a few days ago. Thus he is not on hunger strike anymore, but is barred from entering Korea for five years. You can leave a comment of support or check out his reflections on the event at his CINA blog -- kudos if you can guess what does CINA stands for by the way.

(2) Anwar Hossain, the president of the Migrant Trade Union, is still in Jail, though there hope that he may be freed soon as there has been a lot of support for his case in South Korea and abroad -- all the more reason to keep up the pressure. Here is briefing from the Asian Human Rights Commission in Hong Kong on the case, not mention our link to an online petition here.

(3) Here is an older article in the Choson Ilbo about a migrant worker hospital run by private donations. It seems the hospital is about 200,000 (Canadian dollars) in the red because the government won't support it.

"Since its foundation, 13,000 patients have come to Migrant Workers' Hospital, both legal residents without money and illegal residents with nowhere to turn. Every Sunday, specialists from university hospitals come to offer free treatment, while about 80 volunteer doctors provide treatment from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. daily."

(4) Summer strikes: Looks like the government is intervening in the Asiana pilots stike, sending them to emergency arbitration, which gives them a month to make a deal or the government forces a compromise. Meanwhile, a deal was reached between GM Daewoo and its union, more on that here. I haven't read it closely but looks like good terms from a quick glance.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Korea Blogger on Hunger Strike

A few weeks ago I noticed that Christian's CINA blog had stopped being updated, which is rather strange behaviour because he normally updates it compulsively.

For the last few years, Christian has been, if you will, something of a pedestrian activist-reporter photographing and reporting on events that normally miss the mainstream in Korea's media, and even much of its independent media.

I always looking forward to reading his street level posts on topics ranging from the efforts of street vendors poor urban dwellers to resist displacement, nurses strikes, struggles by the disabled for safe and accessible public spaces, not to mention the migrant worker's struggle, which his has covered in more detail than anyone.

Albeit, Christian's english in his reports is often affected, partially because of his own peculiar brand of grassroots political ideology, and the fact that he is not a native speaker of english. Christian hails from Germany, and seems equally disillusioned with both german socialism and capitalism, making him something of an eccentric and his opinions a bit wild at times, but under it all, he has a genuine concern for documenting and assisting organized struggles against the social causes of human suffering, so much that it may sometimes cause him to neglect his personal life.

Which perhaps is what led to his recent arrest and detention. It seems Christian long ago let his immigration status lapse, mostly because he had run out of money covering protests in South Korea and was most likely afaid that if he left he would not be allowed back in. Inevitably, he was detained by police.

The following is a statement in English and Korean, dated today, documenting conditions in the migrant detention center where Christian is being held, and announcing that he is going on a hunger strike in the hope of improving conditions in the detention center. I hope it works.

Official Statement - 일인 단식 투쟁

Today, Thursday, August 4, 2005, it is exactly 4 weeks ago, that the National Human Right Commission (국가인권위원회, NHRC) was inspecting Mokdong Immigration Detention Center(*).

HNRC, of course, found a lot of violations of human rights here. The main complaints, made by inmates here:

- The entire space here, inclusive the common room, where the inmates spend there "leisure" time and have their fool, and floor between the cells, is permanent overcrowded. Detains call this "like chicken in cages" and "dead fishes in cans"

- The food is "more for pigs" - so many detains here. Even though since about two weeks some small things are changed, till now many detains get only rice and water soup, with small fragmants of vegetables.

- Fresh vegetables or fruits - never the detains, even the people, who have to spend mouths here, get.

- The sleeping places also are totally overcrowded (18 peoples or 16 peoples? is common), noisy, hard and extreme dirty.

Even though yesterday the blankets were taken to clean/wash, because of the daily change of detaines - most of them are arrested on their workplaces, without to get a chance for to take a shower - it should be done at least all 2 weeks, instead of once a year, or all two months, or so.

- The long term detains saw since their arrests no heaven, could not breath fresh air. There is no exercise possible here, so the detainment here, for example, is very harmful for the muscles.

- Until now the detains get no information about their rights here (some detaines, when they come here, even don't know, where they are).

- Since July 19 the inmates of cell №3 demanded their right of at least alternative breakfast. Instead of rice and water soup milk, bread and eggs. But the authorities here, now the 9th day are refusing to met this demand.

- And so on, and so oh...

Because of this terrible situation I have decided to go from today, August 4 2005 in a UNLIMITED HUNGER STRIKE until the immigration authorities solving this problems successfully.

Christian Karl

Mokdong Immigration Detention Center

* today it has been exactly 5 weeks that I have been detained here

공식성명 - 일인 단식 투쟁

오늘은 2005년 8월 4일입니다. 정확히 4주전 국가인권위원회는 목동 출입국 억류센터(*)를 조사했습니다.

국가인권위원회는 물론 여기서 많은 인권침해를 발견했습니다. 여기에 수감된 사람들의 주요 불만은 다음과 같습니다.

-여기의 전체 공간은 수감자들이 “여가”시간을 보내는 각 방들 사이에 있는 층별 휴게실이 계속 사람들로 꽉차 있다는 것입니다. 수감된 사람들은 이것을 “닭장 같다” 또는 “깡통에 죽은 물고기들”이라고 부릅니다.

-식품은 “돼지”를 위한 것-그리고 많은 억류자들도 그렇게 생각합니다. 심지어 2주전에 작은 변화가 있기는 했지만 지금까지 많은 억류자들은 단지 적은 야채 조각들에 밥과 멀건 국만을 받고 있습니다.

-신선한 야채와 과일은 한번도 몇 달 동안 갖혀 있는 동안 먹어보지를 못했습니다.

-잠자는 곳 또한 전체적으로 꽉차있고(18명에서 16명은 보통입니다), 시끄러우며, 불편하고 대단히 지저분합니다.

심지어 어제 담요를 빨기 위해 걷어갔습니다. 왜냐하면 매일 억류자들이 바뀌기 때문이고 대부분은 그들 공장에서 체포되기 때문에 샤워를 할 수 있는 기회가 없기 때문입니다. 1년에 한번, 2달에 한번 대신 2주 마다 한번씩 (뭘?) 할 수 있도록 보장되어야 합니다.

-장기간의 억류기간동안 신선한 공기를 마실 수 없습니다. 여기서는 운동도 할 수 없고 예를 들어 여기에 있는 억류는 근육에서 대단히 해롭습니다.

-지금까지 억류자들은 여기에서의 권리에 대해 아무런 정보도 얻지 못했습니다(일부 억류자들은 여기에 왔을때 그들이 어디에 있는지 조차 알지 못했습니다.)

-7월 19일 이후 3번 방 수감자들은 적어도 아침식사를 바꾸어 달라는 그들의 권리를 요구했습니다. 밥과 멀건 죽 대신에 빵과 달걀을 달라고 했으나 당국은 9일째 그들의 요구를 들어주기를 거부하고 있습니다.

-기타 등등

이런 끔찍한 상황 때문에 당국에서 이 문제를 성공적으로 해결할 때까지 오늘 2005년 8월 4일부터 무기한 단식투쟁을 진행하기로 마음먹었습니다.

2005년 8월 4일

크리스티앙 칼

목동 억류센터에서

* 오늘은 정확히 내가 여기에 억류된 지 5주째가 됩니다.