[EDITORIALS]Stopgap reform for laborThe government proposal for better management of foreign workers seems to be just another stopgap measure despite the urgency of the need to improve the situation of foreign workers. We see violations of immigration laws, human rights abuse and irregularities by employment agencies. Because of inter-ministerial wrangling, the essence of the needed reform, the replacement of the industrial trainee system with a work permit system, was simply lost. Instead, the focus was shifted to increasing the number of industrial trainees to fill the manpower gap in some industries.
Expanding the employment opportunities for ethnic Korean guest workers could be controversial on grounds of fairness. Overseas Koreans are a familiar and skilled work force for our firms, and their demands for more employment opportunities here are long-standing. Recognizing their needs, opportunities for employment in the services sector have been expanded. But manufacturers need foreign workers more, and because the new employment management system will be implemented in parallel with the industrial trainee system, manufacturing manpower could move to service industries. Increasing the number of trainees for construction engineering and near-sea fishing should be reconsidered, even though the plan could fill short-term shortages. When foreign trainees occupy such jobs, the transfer of industrial skills to our next generation is disrupted and conflicts with domestic workers about "cheap labor" could flare up.
The most difficult problem is the violation of immigration laws. The government says that 256,000 illegal workers will be deported by March, but that is not likely. It is not possible to drive all illegal foreign workers out of the country. While providing them with a chance to be pardoned for their earlier violations, regulations against new violations should be strengthened.
No country is a good model for employing foreign workers. Employment of foreign workers is closely connected with changes in the industrial structure that result from the aging of society and the industrial vacuum that then appears in manufacturing. Solving manpower shortage on the spot is necessary, but devising an overall industrial policy is no less urgent.