In New Report, Amnesty International Calls on South Korea to Cease Mistreatment of Migrant Workers

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

AIUSA media office, 202-544-0200 x302,
Laura Spann: lspann@aiusa.org

 

In New Report, Amnesty International Calls on South Korea to Cease Mistreatment of Migrant Workers

WASHINGTON - Many migrant workers in South
Korea are beaten, trafficked for sexual exploitation, and denied wages
for long periods of time, despite the introduction of rules to protect
their rights, said Amnesty International in a report issued today.  

In the 98-page report, Disposable Labor:
Rights of Migrant Workers in South Korea
, Amnesty International documents
the dangerous and unjust working conditions that many migrant workers are
forced into. According to the report, migrant workers often operate heavy
machinery and handle dangerous chemicals without receiving sufficient training
or protective equipment. As a result, they are at greater risk of industrial
accidents, including fatalities. To make matters worse, they often receive
less pay compared to native South Korean workers.  

"Migrant workers are vulnerable to abuse
and exploitation largely because they cannot change jobs without their
employer's permission," said Roseann Rife, deputy director of Amnesty
International's Asia-Pacific program. "Work conditions are sometimes
so bad that they run away and, consequently, lose their regular status
and are then subject to arrest and deportation."

South Korea was one of the first Asian countries
to legally recognize the rights of migrant workers with the Employment
Permit System (EPS), which was meant to better protect the rights of migrant
workers. This granted them the same status as Korean workers, with equal
labor rights, pay, and benefits.

However, five years after its implementation,
many continue to face hardships and abuse.  

In September 2008, there were an estimated
220,000 irregular migrant workers in the country.

The government of South Korea pledged to
halve this number by 2012, launching a massive and sometimes violent crackdown
on migrant workers. Immigration officers and the police are accused on
occasion of using excessive force against migrant workers and operating
outside the law.

Disposable Labor documents how the
South Korean government has not sufficiently monitored workplaces, with
high numbers of accidents, inadequate medical treatment and compensation,
and unfair dismissals.  

Amnesty International interviewed migrant
workers who described how their employers forced them to work long hours
and night shifts, without overtime pay. The employers would often withhold
their wages as well.

"Despite the advances of the EPS, the cycle
of abuse and mistreatment continues as thousands of migrant  workers
find themselves at the mercy of employers and the authorities who mistreat
them knowing their victims have few legal rights and are unable to access
justice or seek compensation for the abuse," said Rife.

Amnesty International's research shows that
women are at particular risk of abuse.  Several female workers recruited
as singers in US military camp towns have been trafficked into sexual exploitation,
including the sex industry, by their employers and managers.

Amnesty International spoke to trafficked
women who said they had no choice but to remain in their jobs because they
were in debt to their employer and did not know where to turn for help.
 If the women ran away, they risked losing their legal status and
being subject to deportation.

"These women are double victims," said
Rife. "First they are trafficked and then they become "illegal" migrants
under South Korean law when they attempt to escape from their exploitative
situation."

Amnesty International calls on the government
of South Korea:
·        To
ensure that employers respect, protect and promote the rights of migrant
workers through rigorous labor inspections, so that the workplace is safe,
training is provided and migrant workers are paid fairly and on time.

  • To
    protect and promote the rights of all female migrant workers and stamp
    out sexual harassment and sexual exploitation.
  • To
    allow irregular migrant workers to remain in South Korea while accessing
    justice and seeking compensation for abuses by employees.
  • To
    ensure that during immigration raids, immigration authorities adhere to
    South Korean law requiring them to identify themselves, present a warrant,
    caution and inform migrant workers of their rights, and provide those under
    their custody prompt medical treatment when needed or requested.

Background:

Disposable Labor contains the testimony
of 60 migrant workers along with staff from shelters, migrant centers,
NGOs, factory workers and managers, piecing together evidence of an exploitative
system that fails to uphold individual human rights. Interviews were carried
out in 11 cities throughout the country.

Case studies:

KN, a 34-year-old Sri Lankan male migrant
worker, worked at a factory making shipping parts in Jinae, South Gyeongsang
province.  When a 150kg metal pipe fell on him, he broke five toes
and two fingers.  Although he needed to be hospitalized for two months,
his employer came to the hospital after 12 days and threatened to fire
him if he did not return to work.  He did not even give KN time to
change out of his hospital clothes.  Living on the second floor, KN
had difficulty getting around because there were no lifts.  His leg
hurt so much that he could barely stand.  Infuriated with KN, his
employer dragged KN to the immigration office where he cancelled his work
visa.

FJ, a 37-year-old Filipino female migrant
worker, was recruited as a singer but was trafficked into sexual exploitation
at a nightclub in Dongducheon, Gyeonggi province.  During her first
week, her employer brought his friends to the nightclub and locked her
and another woman in a room with them and left.  His friends demanded
to have sex with the women but they refused.  When FJ later complained
to her employer, he just yelled at her and threatened to send her back
to the Philippines.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning
grassroots activist organization with more than 2.2 million supporters,
activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human
rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates
and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice,
freedom, truth and dignity are denied.

# # #

To receive the full report, Disposable
Labor: Rights of Migrant Workers in South Korea,
please e-mail media@aiusa.org.

For more information, please visit: www.amnestyusa.org

###

We are people from across the world standing up for humanity and human rights. Our purpose is to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied. We investigate and expose abuses, educate and mobilize the public, and help transform societies to create a safer, more just world.

Share This Article

More in: