[EDITORIALS]Fix the foreign labor chaosAgain last year , the government changed its mind and said it would allow a one-year extension for illegal workers who have stayed here less than three years; Seoul in early 2002 had threatened to deport the entire 280,000 foreigners estimated to be working illegally here.
About half have been here less than three years, and they are jamming the office that receives applications for extensions. The other half have fled their workplaces to avoid the government crackdown, and that may cause serious industrial slowdowns.
A large number of foreign workers are also reportedly just waiting for the new administration to take over, sneering at the government because they expect the policy to be changed ?as always ?one more time with the launch of the new administration.
The government has stubbornly stuck to the "industrial trainee system" that is full of loopholes and generates illegal workers and human rights abuses. The policies zigzagged between giving them a status akin to Korean workers and, as now, treating them as "trainees."
Even when forced deportations are imminent, ministries cannot agree how to handle the problem. To reduce the confusion, the government must follow through on its current plans and the new administration must redraw the policies from scratch.
The illegal workers must be sent home because the government has said so. They might be readmitted later and their earlier experience here recognized. If Seoul does not wish to repeat the farce of threatening to deport and then relenting, it must have a long-term plan to match needed workers with job vacancies.
Workers migrate these days, and Koreans do not like dirty, dangerous and difficult jobs. Korean society is also aging rapidly, so we have no other option but to open the door to foreign workers.
The government must concentrate, though belatedly, on a system of employee rights for foreign workers. Of course, the system will cost small and medium firms more money, but the cost must not be the stumbling block.