Choi Hyun-mo (Director of the Center for Migrant Workers’ Human Rights in Korea)
Three months after I started working in a furniture factory, I felt pain from the back of my neck to my shoulder. At times, it was so painful that I couldn’t sleep at night because of the pain. As I continued to lift and move heavy wood and plywood all day, I thought the crowd was starting to come. Moreover, as the Thai workers who were working with him a month ago also left, the workload increased and the pain in the back and shoulders got worse day by day. I couldn’t bear it, so I took a day off from work and went to the hospital with a friend from my hometown who was fluent in Korean. The doctor said an MRI would be necessary to make an accurate diagnosis. The cost was said to be $35,000. I had very little money on hand because I hadn’t received my paycheck in the past few months and I hadn’t received my paycheck for last month. I just had to turn around. The hard work continued and the pain only got worse.
A few days later, I got up the courage and told my boss that it was hard to work because of the pain, but I was ignored. The next day, I said that I wanted to go to the hospital because I was so sick again, but I was told that if I didn’t work, I wouldn’t have a salary, and only came back with a bang. It was so difficult that I didn’t know what to do. Then, I went to a place called the Migrant Workers’ Human Rights Center, which was introduced by people from my hometown to help people who came to work from abroad. It was only when I went there that I was told that the president did not have health insurance, which was mandatory. And since the cause of the pain may be work, I was guided to the hospital to think about what to do after receiving the diagnosis. According to the doctor, a sprain has occurred in the cervical vertebrae and the pain is felt. He said that he should not work for a while and receive treatment while resting. He also said that it is not serious now, but if you keep doing the same thing, the disease may get worse.
I wanted to move my factory to another place, but after hearing that it would not be easy to move without the owner’s permission, I asked the person at the Human Rights Center to ask the boss to take a break and receive treatment if he was ill. He also asked me to sign up for health insurance. Fortunately, the boss promised to give him time to heal. And a day passed. If the boss came and didn’t work, he reported to the immigration office and threatened to deport me. He said that receiving treatment is not a part-time job, so he takes care of it and throws him out if he misses the job. He said that he tried to assess him through a person at the Human Rights Center, but he told me not to contact him again, saying that if he doesn’t work, he will unconditionally report it and expel him. I appealed to the Employment Support Center of the Ministry of Labor, but I couldn’t change the company for reasons such as pain and lack of health insurance, and I was rather stingy about how I would work in Korea if I couldn’t work because I was sick.
I had no choice but to work through the pain. But the pain was so severe that I couldn’t work any more. But I couldn’t go to the hospital because I didn’t have health insurance. It was so hard, I talked to the boss’s family and rested in the dormitory. But suddenly, the boss yelled at me to leave if I didn’t want to work. I was so scared. I contacted the Human Rights Center again and asked for help. And I heard words like the blue sky. When I checked with the Ministry of Labor Employment Support Center at the Human Rights Center, it was found that the boss had already reported that he had left the workplace, so he had become an ‘illegal person’. He said he was just talking and resting in the dormitory, and he asked how he could report the departure, but he only repeated that there was no other way unless the boss directly withdraws the report. He said that he complained that he had not signed up for health insurance, which is mandatory for business owners, and that he had broken his promise to give him time to rest and receive treatment, but to no avail. It is not a matter for them to decide whether to purchase health insurance, it is just a matter to check with the Health Insurance Corporation, and although it is compulsory, it is not possible to force the purchase of insurance, nor to change the company for reasons such as not having health insurance. Then he told me to come to the employment support center with a person to interpret.
An employee of the employment support center said that if he apologized to his boss and said he would go back to work, he would withdraw the report of departure. He said that if the report of departure was not withdrawn, nothing could be done. I couldn’t help it. I made a mistake, so all I can do is ask you to get me to work again. But I still can’t figure out what I did wrong. It is later revealed that there are many foreign people who do bad things even though they are ‘legal’.
This is the story of a migrant worker, M, who recently came across the story through counseling. After entering Korea last year through the Employment Permit System, four months have passed since the employer’s unilateral report of departure from the same factory made him an ‘illegal person’ twice. Every time he complained about work-related inconvenience, he was ignored, and in severe cases, he was reported as ‘leaving a workplace’ without realizing it, and he became an ‘illegal resident’. Under the Employment Permit System, employers can control the legal status of migrant workers only by unilaterally expressing their intentions. Migrant workers will not receive any legal protection if they fall outside the eyes of the employer, but also have to be prepared for the worst situation of being subject to relentless crackdowns and forced deportation. Migrant worker M was also well aware of this situation, so he had to put up with anger and bow his head to the employer. The business owner’s request was simple. It’s about ‘work, don’t talk too much’.
At the end of last year, through a three-year survey, ‘disposable workers; Amnesty International, which published a report titled ‘The Human Rights Situation of Migrant Workers in Korea’, stated that ‘The reason Korean migrant workers are vulnerable to exploitation and human rights violations is that the Employment Permit System subordinates the status of migrant workers to their employers’. It has been six years since the Employment Permit System, which was advertised as improving the harmful effects of the ‘industrial training system’, which was criticized as a modern slavery system, and guaranteeing equal rights for migrant workers, was implemented. Propaganda is just propaganda. For migrant workers who are subordinated to the unilateral will of their employers, even their basic rights as human beings are just a piece of cake. This is the reason for the constant criticism that the Employment Permit System is just another ‘Slave Permit System’.