[VIEWPOINT]Foreign work act needs overhaulThe government's plan to ease regulations on foreign workers is being blasted by public opinion. The new system proposed by the government can be summarized in three parts. The first is to increase the quota of foreign industrial trainees and to expand the system to the agriculture and livestock sectors. Currently, the manufacturing, construction and fishery industries are allowed to hire foreign industrial trainees.
The second part is the introduction of an "employment management system" to let ethnic Koreans living abroad work in domestic service jobs, such as restaurant waiters, housekeepers and nurses.
The third part is to expatriate 265,000 illegal sojourners who have voluntarily reported their entry, by the end of March 2003, and supplement a new work force to fill in the gap.
The government's proposals have crucial flaws.
No. 1. It is anachronistic to revive the foreign industrial trainee system, which should be abolished. A foreign industrial trainee is used to transfer advanced technology to developing countries. But this system has been abused. Korean industries have taken advantage of the foreign workers since they are listed as trainees instead of workers. The foreign trainees have not been able to receive adequate wages and other benefits stated under the Labor Standards Act. The system has not been carried out to meet its original purpose. Is cleaning up livestock excrement a technology to be transferred to the Third World?
No. 2. There are problems in the "employment management system" for ethnic Koreans, who will be allowed to work in the domestic service sector. They will not be managed under a new law but under a clause of the Immigration Control Act. The decision reflects the government's intention not to grant whole rights as foreign workers to ethnic Koreans, although it would allow them to start work. I cannot understand why the government seeks to resort to an expedient instead of pursuing reasonable policies.
There is no reasonable legal basis for limiting ethnic Koreans to work in the service sector. Why can't they be employed in the construction, manufacturing, fishery and agriculture sectors, which suffer from work force shortages? Ethnic Koreans who entered the service sectors are allowed to stay for two years, which is less than the three year- period which foreign industrial trainees are allowed to stay. The impractical system could lead to an increase in illegal sojourners.
Granting ethnic Koreans preferential treatment also lacks legitimacy. Government officials should keep in mind that the constitution bans discrimination. A special act to oversee entrance of ethnic Koreans and their legal status is reasonable, but granting preferential treatment based on general laws may be subject to criticism for discriminating other people and races.
No. 3. The government's decision to deport illegal entrants is all right, but it would fail if the government does not have the ability to enforce such decisions. It would be better for the government to pardon the illegal sojourners and phase them out gradually over the years. I cannot understand why the government should take a steep and dangerous road, even if it seems to be a shortcut.
The revision of the foreign workers act is mired with expediencies, which are unlikely to be realized, and is subject to a mockery in international society. The revision should be overhauled at once. It is not a difficult task to correct the flaws. The foreign industrial trainee system should be closed at once. The system has been the source of illegal entrants and human rights violations. A new act should be legislated to introduce an "employment management" or "work permit" system for foreign workers. Foreigners should be granted workers' status regardless of nationality, people, race and sex so that they will not be mistreated. Transferring technology to developing countries should be expanded.
The Korean economy is already advancing to the level of advanced nations. The Korean national soccer team's entry into the semifinals of the World Cup has brought confidence that we can build a democratic and welfare state advocating peace, rapprochement and tolerance.
The writer is a professor of sociology at Chonbuk National University.
by Seol Dong-hun