[EDITORIALS]Foreign worker woes

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[EDITORIALS]Foreign worker woes

The government is reconsidering its plan to deport all illegal foreign workers by the end of March. With the deadline just a few months away, as soon as the government began investigating illegal foreign residents, small and medium-sized companies said those workers were wreaking havoc at industry sites by disappearing in the middle of jobs. The sudden labor shortage at such companies forced the government to reconsider its plan to deport illegal foreign workers all at once.

The trouble has been brewing for some time. The government last summer decided to deport about 256,000 illegal foreign workers by March 2003, once and for all. Although there was a grace period, deporting that many workers at one time was unrealistic. The government also planned to fill the void at industries with only 20,000 "industry trainees." As a result, the government was rattling its sabers without thinking what the circumstances would be if those workers left domestic industries all at once.

Work force shortages in the so-called "3D" industries -- dirty, difficult and dangerous -- are overwhelming. As of October, the unemployment rate in Korea stood at 2.6 percent, while the figure was almost double that among workers in their 20s. Despite intense difficulties to find gainful employment, young people continue to avoid working for small companies or in production lines. Foreign workers have therefore served as likely substitutes.

Once a decision was made to deport illegal workers, the government needed to increase the supply of legal foreign workers. But because it seems difficult to fill the empty spots left by deported illegal workers all at once, the government should consider issuing visas for short-term illegal workers to diffuse the shortage of workers at small companies while sticking to its broader principle.

Introducing a system where Korean companies can employ foreign workers after getting government permission may contribute to increasing the wages, but it will be a better measure to resolve, albeit partly, problems like illegal residency, human trafficking and human right infringements.
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