Hyunmo Choi (Director of the Center for Migrant Workers’ Human Rights in Korea)
It has been three years since the Employment Permit System was implemented. Considering that the legal stay and employment period granted to migrant workers under the Employment Permit System is three years, the operation of the Employment Permit System as a foreign manpower system has completed one cycle and is moving on to the next. This also means that it is time for an objective evaluation of the system operation so far. On August 14, three years before the implementation of the Employment Permit System, a discussion forum was held to evaluate the performance of the system operated by the government. At the meeting, a government official said, ‘The Employment Permit System has become an epochal turning point in Korea’s foreign manpower policy, and the evaluation of the past three years has been successful’. However, unlike the government’s self-praise, the voices of the labor field on migrant workers are nothing less than an evaluation of ‘another modern version of slavery’.
Three opportunities and human rights being ridiculed
“Mr. V from Sri Lanka entered Korea on August 9, 2005 through the Employment Permit System. It was difficult to come to Korea! Although it was difficult, he persevered and worked hard, earning money as soon as possible and entering his first job in Korea, envisioning a future where he would live happily with his family in his home country. However, his dream began to falter from his first job. He worked hard, but his employer did not pay him for his work. A month, two months… Even as time passed, there was nothing in return for the labor that had to be put in his hands. After many twists and turns, he was paid through a human rights organization, but he was hated by his employer and could no longer work. Eventually, he had to leave his first job and find a new one. second job. He hoped that the frustration at his first job would not be repeated, but his wish was soon shattered. Recurring wage arrears. Reluctantly, he changed jobs again. However, at his third job, he became ill due to overwork and was unable to work. Moving to a new workplace again. Sri Lankan Mr. V had to change his business three times in less than two years after coming to Korea. It was his last chance. However, not long after he started working at his fourth job, the work decreased and all four Sri Lankan colleagues he worked with quit their jobs to move to another workplace, and the company tried to fire even Mr. V returned to a human rights organization with a desperate heart. There, Mr. V found out that if the three workplace changes were not attributable to the worker, he could change the workplace one more time. However, in the records of the Employment Support Center, the three reasons for moving were ‘normal contract termination’ and ‘consensual retirement’. In a situation where it was difficult for the migrant worker to prove his/her claim, only the claim of the Korean employer was recognized as the reason for the move. The conclusion was that all three reasons for moving were attributable to Mr. V, and no further movements were permitted. Mr. V was deprived of all three opportunities regardless of his will. Two years after coming to Korea with a dream, Mr. V’s dream was shattered. It is simply frustrating whether I should return to my hometown after being unfairly dismissed, or have to live in the blind spot of human rights as an undocumented sojourner who is labeled ‘illegal’ and is exposed defenselessly to the violence of crackdown and deportation.”
The Employment Permit System, which was enacted in 2003 and entered into full force in August 2004, said, “It solves problems such as human rights violations, transmission corruption, and illegal immigrants that have arisen in the process of bringing in trainees under the industrial training system and actually using them expediently as workers. And … It is a system that meets international standards by guaranteeing human rights by applying the Labor Relations Act to foreign workers on an equal basis with Koreans… It is a system that is beneficial to the national interest and the national economy.” As the person in charge of employment policy at the Ministry of Labor said, ‘Modern slavery system’ He expressed his will to realize human rights and labor rights that meet international standards while preventing the falsification of the foreign manpower system due to the harmful effects of the industrial training system, which has been criticized for saying, ‘and confirming the workmanship of migrant workers. However, three years have passed since the implementation of the ‘prohibition in principle of workplace movement’, which has been pointed out from the beginning of its implementation, not only has the declaration of guarantee of the same labor rights as domestic workers, but rather acts as a shackle that suppresses the human rights of migrant workers. And it is a factor that encourages the decline of undocumented residents. This is because the reasons for the change recognized by the Employment Permit System are not applicable. The reasons recognized by the Employment Permit System are ‘1. When the employer intends to terminate the labor contract during the period of the labor contract for justifiable reasons or refuse to renew the labor contract after the labor contract has expired 2. The employer may not continue to work at the workplace for reasons not attributable to the foreign worker. 3. In case the employment permit is revoked or employment restrictions are taken due to the employer’s violation of the law, etc. 4. Injuries, etc. make it unsuitable for a foreign worker to continue to work at the relevant workplace, but work at another workplace is prohibited. If possible, it is allowed only three times. And in all cases, in principle, the employer agrees to the change. By setting unrealistic requirements such as the reason for change and the employer’s consent, which are recognized only as exceptions, migrant workers can be treated without the consent of the employer, despite numerous types of unfair treatment such as discrimination, contract violation, and everyday verbal abuse and assault. The place of business cannot be changed accordingly. Even if it falls under the reason for change, it is unimaginable to change the workplace if you do not know the change procedure approved by the Ministry of Labor, or if you cannot prove it. You can just be patient or choose the path of illegal stay. All rights under the Employment Permit System reside only with the employer, and migrant workers are merely subordinate beings who have no choice but to accept that their legal status is determined by the employer’s will. Under the Employment Permit System, migrant workers are subject to ‘management and control’ and cannot express their opinions confidently as subjects of rights.
Violence of antinomy – crackdown and forced deportation
With the implementation of the Employment Permit System, the government carried out extensive crackdowns on undocumented migrant workers, so-called ‘illegal migrants,’ under the goal of stabilizing the employment permit system. Prevention and establishment of legal sojourn order’ justifies the enforcement of enforcement and deportation policies for undocumented migrant workers. However, this is only a deterrent to rationalize the immoral anti-antagonistic violence of the government policy against undocumented migrant workers. The root cause of the occurrence of undocumented migrant workers is the wrong government policy. As is already known, many undocumented migrant workers have been mass-produced due to government policies that have forced migrant workers to live in slavery, such as transmission corruption, labor exploitation, and human rights violations after the industrial training system. In addition, the government maintains a system that includes only a limited number of migrant workers within the legal framework, conserving the interests of employers’ organizations, an interest group in charge of its operation, and at the same time alleviating the demand for a labor shortage in the industrial field. It has even pursued a dual policy of using undocumented migrant workers for this purpose. The keynote pursued by this series of government policies has been the repression of registered migrant workers who have been denied their right to work and undocumented migrant workers who have been denied their sojourn status, and the strengthening of the structure of exploitation. This principle has not changed even when the Employment Permit System is in force. The failure of the government’s policy of reducing illegal stay through forced enforcement and deportation has long been proven. Rather, various illegal acts are rampant in the process of crackdown, protection, and deportation, which are carried out in the name of legal order, and human rights violations are repeated as a result, and the exploitation and oppression of undocumented migrant workers who are afraid of cracking down is further increased. It’s just encouraging
Recently, in the era of 1 million migrants, the government has set the ‘realization of a multicultural society together with migrants’ as a national policy goal and is presenting specific implementation plans. The government’s policy stance is to actively attract excellent professional manpower to secure national competitiveness and to integrate marriage migrants, which has been increasing rapidly over the past few years, as the biggest tasks. It is to make the most of it within the institutional framework, but to prevent social costs by preventing settlement. In a word, it is an ugly idea faced with national egoism. More than 17 years have passed since the full-fledged ‘migrant labor’ began in Korean society. Migrant workers exist as a clear social reality that fills the gaps in Korean society for a long time and has been living together for a long time, but they still have not opened the small door of guaranteeing basic rights to these migrant workers in Korean society. Rather, the vague slogan of ‘multicultural society’ is diluting social interest in migrant workers. Now, three years after the Employment Permit System, which promised equal guarantees of human and labor rights for migrant workers, was implemented, the self-portrait is nothing more than a ‘bright apricot.’ It is urgent for a comprehensive review based on human dignity and universal human rights, rather than the low-level economic logic of capitalism that says that it is easy to use at a low price when needed and discarded when the utility is low.