Friday, April 13, 2007

migrants, labour relations, FTA

I was up early this morning (jet lag) and finally had a chance to update myself on some current issues, courtesy of the online English version of the Hankyoreh -- my favorite English resource on Korea these days.

Yeosu tragedy

First is a sad but biting story on the return of survivors of the Yeosu Fire to their home countries.

There was no one at the airport to see off the 17 wounded in the fire, leaving with their families two months after the conflagration. At that time, here were a large number of reporters covering the accident in Yeosu, but the situation was completely different on the surviving workers' final day in Korea. They still had wounds from the fire, and 10 million won (US$10,700) in compensation provided by the Korean government.
The migrants and their families held a 1.5 hour sit-in at the airport in order to get medical certificates to allow their re-entry. I don't think they were successful. The Korean government hurried to settle the incident, less than two months after it occurred. The workers, meanwhile, are still traumatized and injured: "I am suffering from nightmares and my hands shake uncontrollably. I have chronic, serious headaches and dizziness," said Park Cheol-yong, an ethnic Korean from China.

Of course, quickly packing the migrants back to their home countries with 10k will keep them out of the limelight in SK and make it more difficult to launch a systematic investigation or inquiry into the incident. One cynical bureaucrat simply told reporters that sending these migrants back was in the 'national interest', removing them at dawn from Yeosu the same day that a preparatory team for the World Expo 2012.

Labour Relations

Local groups are also complaining about the possibility of the OECD suspending labour monitoring in South Korea. It has been monitoring the labour situation there for 10 years now and the government wants it to stop, citing compliance with some of the OECD and ILO standards. However, groups complain that the situation is worsening and site an increase in imprisoned unionists as proof. Labour rights are also an issue with the FTA, and US democrats want to see the release of imprisoned unionists and a firmer commitment to labour rights included in the FTA. The writer also mentions that "if the government changes its position over the issues after renegotiations with the U.S., people will think the South Korean government easily yields under pressure from the US." Now I'm not sure if this is his opinion or if he is being merely descriptive, but I don't think labour issues are the ones that show that the SK government easily yields to pressure from the US. Funny that this concern wasn't always raised by the media on the concessions that Korea made in almost every single area of the agreement. Hmmmmm....

Anti-FTA groups lose funding

Finally, a story on the Ministry of Government and Home Affairs pressuring local governments to deny funding to NGOs that participated in Anti-FTA rallies. MOHAGA certainly loves to intervene in politics, as was witnessed by their crackdown against the Korean government employees union last fall -- one source of said concern by US dems cited above-- but, anyways, the ministry used participation at illegal rallies as their criteria for denying groups funding.

In response, civic activists said that given that nearly all rallies against the ROK-U.S. FTA have been arbitrarily declared illegal by the police, the government are apparently targeting the civic groups opposing the FTA.

Im Yeong-mi, an official at People's Coalition for Media Reform, said the new measure is targeting groups opposing the FTA with the U.S. "How can the Participatory Government restrict subsidies for the groups for expressing views different from those of the government?'' he said.

Here's the link.

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