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Building a diverse and fair society

Migrant workers must be better integrated into national life

Building a diverse and fair society
Fr. Francis Kim Chong-dae SJ, Seoul

September 24, 2012

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New guidelines on migrant workers in the country have made it more difficult for foreign workers to integrate properly in society and constitute a step backward from previous improvements. In 2004, the Ministry of Employment and Labor implemented the Employment Permit System (EPS). The measure was aimed at improving industrial training systems and allowing workers to change employers more easily without the intervention of brokers. The system also tried to better match potential foreign employees with local companies in need of larger workforces. Under the new scheme, migrant workers also had the option of applying for a change of workplace up to five times during a legal stay of four years and 10 months. When such an application was made, government employment centers provided workers with a list of companies in need of workers and distributed lists of workers to companies. But on August 1, the ministry made an additional change. It stopped supplying workers with  a list of companies looking for new staff, saying that the change would prevent employment brokers from exploiting workers and prevent illegal employment and delayed payment of wages. Labor activists were quick to respond that there have been few serious problems with employment brokers. Moreover, they said the change would actually make workers more dependent on brokers to identify potential employers looking for new staff. The new policy restricts the options for migrant workers, limits their choice of workplaces and aggravates the current weaknesses of the EPS system. Social integration of foreign workers and the creation of a multicultural society have emerged in recent years as major social issues. A logical starting point for securing the rights of migrant workers is to protect their rights first, then build the necessary social safety net around them. Korea had just over 1.44 million migrant workers as of May this year, according to government figures. We cannot call ourselves a multicultural society simply because of this number of foreign workers. That would assume that they, and not Korean society as a whole, would be responsible for building that type of society. Social integration of foreign workers depends heavily on what type of society Korean people envisage. Is it one of inclusion and integration, or one of disunity and segregation? Societies are defined in large part by the communities they exclude. Jesuit Father Francis Kim Chong-dae is director of Yiutsari, the Jesuit migrant center Related reports Foreign workers face criminal, health checks
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