Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Changes to laws around foreign workers

Very interesting development in terms of foreign workers these days. Workers will now be able to work for 5 years and can change workplaces. These were both demands made by the Equality Trade Union -- Migrant Branch (predecessor of the MTU) back when the EPS was being negotiated. How to regard this development? What does it mean for the migrant rights movement?

I guess it is a partial victory. The 5 year concession was something there was more support for from the small business federation back in the day, the change of workplace procedure probably came from a number of sources inside the ministry, civil society, employers etc. Both aspects of the policy are obviously designed to prevent workers from becoming undocumented as after 3 years most workers haven't paid back the illegal brokerage fees that they have paid, if they had to pay them, which I believe they do in a majority of cases, and when faced with exploitation in the workplace many workers change workplaces but become undocumented in the process, so this change in the law should improve conditions generally in terms of the number of people without status.

What it does not address, however, is the claim for justice on behalf of those migrant that have been in Korea the longest and who were excluded from the EPS as an act of punishment. Unfortunately, I think it will have the effect of diminishing solidarity for them as the problems in the EPS used to continuously force people into undocumented status who then feel more solidarity with longer term migrants. I think it is these migrants that an amnesty and some sort of designation allowing them to apply for residency is needed, so they can go about their lives as they have been trying to for years in the midst of continually changes permit systems and perpetual crackdown. This is an important question of distributive justice. Those migrants with families and long term roots should be considered first, but the 'right hand' of the state (Justice, and Interior ministries) do not recognize the social suffering of these people, they even cause much of it, and therein the problem exists.

Here's the article from the Times:

Foreigners Can Work for Up to 5 Years By Bae Ji-sook
Staff Reporter

From July 28, foreign nationals will be able to work for up to five straight years without having to make the obligatory one-month sojourn outside Korea to extend their job contracts, the Ministry of Labor said Tuesday.

According to the revised Foreign Workers Employment Law, those currently allowed to work for up to three years will be able to extend their contracts for another two years. Currently, they have to leave the country for one month before renewal.

``Foreign workers complained over the cost involved in the one-month trip and management said their absence damaged business,'' Kim Yeon-shik, a ministry official, said.

Employment procedures will also change for management to hire more eligible persons. Under the current system, employers have to pick workers from those passing a Korean language test without screening their individual details.

But a new list will show each jobseeker's qualifications and career record. Employers will also be able to recruit directly via interviews overseas.

Workers will also get additional support. The government will provide job information to ethnic Korean Chinese people to help them settle in Korea more easily after signing work contracts.

In order to prevent workplace exploitation, conditions will be specified that allow workers to transfer to other companies. Workers can apply for transfers when wages are delayed and if their employer violates the Korean Labor Law.

``Under the new system, employers will be able to secure manpower from overseas and workers can easily adjust to Korean society,'' the official said.

The current employment permit system (EPS) allows a maximum three-year contract and renewal of up to two years, while the transfer of workplaces is limited to factory closures or worksite abuse.

In April, 377,032 foreigners were working under the EPS and 75.4 percent of them were working at companies with less than 30 on their payroll.

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