[EDITORIALS]Extensions, not policy

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[EDITORIALS]Extensions, not policy

The government decided to extend the grace period for illegal foreign workers to leave the country, because the deadline was approaching and the plan was still controversial. By next March, 260,000 foreign workers will have to leave the country, and such a mass migration would create empty workspaces, paralyzing the nation's industries. We understand the difficulty, but we do not understand why the law has not been enforced properly until now. The compromise is undignified.

The industrial trainee system was controversial from the beginning; human rights abuses and corruption abounded but small businesses demanded that the program continue. The government stumbled in trying to find a balance and has said there will be another grace period after the first one a year ago.

Yesterday's decision focuses on keeping enough of a labor supply to meet demand. The government said it would keep some form of training program going, but the extension does nothing to solve the existing problems, and illegal foreign workers will continue to face problems. Trainees are not protected by the Labor Act, and they are too mobile to keep track of. Civic groups and the Labor Ministry wanted a new system that would allow foreigners to work here legally.

Companies will have to bear increasing wage costs if the program is scrapped. According to the Korea Federation of Small Business, foreign industrial trainees receive only 80 percent of wages that Korean workers get. Industrial trainees, however, take away employment opportunities for Koreans. Foreign workers sometimes cannot adapt to life here; crime and other social problems are the result.

Opening the labor market to foreign workers, however, is unavoidable because of domestic labor shortages. If we have to import a work force, then we must do it transparently. The government might not give full employment rights to trainees, but it must draw up some alternatives.
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