Working on foreign relationsAt the end of 2002, Chung Nam-man, 47, a manager at Sejinsaneop, a printing press manufacturer in Gyeonggi province, received an unexpected letter from the Philippines.
The letter was from Jeronimo Edugardo, 36, who had spent two years working at the press factory under Mr. Chung’s supervision. Mr. Edugardo had come to Korea as an industrial trainee, working here to send money back to his family.
In his letter Mr. Edugardo talked about how he had established his own businesses ― a small market and a motorcycle taxi company ― and he thanked the manager and the company for teaching him the skills he needed to become successful.
Mr. Chung treasures the letter and remembers Mr. Edugardo warmly. “He always worked hard and had a smile on his face,” Mr. Chung says. “When I heard that he is leading a successful life in his country I felt so much joy. It was like my own son had done it.”
The manager emphasizes to all his employees that every foreign worker should be treated like part of the family. Mr. Chung himself worked as a foreign laborer in Libya 20 years ago, learning firsthand what it is like to be far from home, in a strange land, trying to make a living.
So whenever a foreign trainee comes to the company Mr. Chung makes sure that that person feels comfortable. He assigns each trainee an employee that exclusively trains and teaches the newcomer and acts as his mentor. He also ensures that the foreign workers are invited to company parties as often as possible. On holidays, he invites them to his house and arranges birthday celebrations for them, to help ease their homesickness.
Sung Ki-cheon, 55, plant superintendent of Doowon, a company in Chungcheon province that manufactures air conditioning systems for automobiles, also has a deep understanding of the hardships many foreign trainees face in Korea.
He once worked in the desert of Saudi Arabia. For him, trying to make their stay as comfortable as possible is a natural result of his own experience. When one of his foreign employees, Arisvayef Kuanische, 33, from Kazakstan had to be hospitalized for two months due to gallstones, Mr. Sung and the other employees collected 1.2 million won ($1,025) to help out with medical expenses, while paying the trainee 100 percent of his wages.
For Mr. Sung, taking care of his foreign employees is also a matter of national pride. “I strongly believe that we have to show them what Korean hospitality is like,” he says. “If we treat them respectfully, not only is productivity enhanced but also their image of our country.”
The company also plans tours to nearby tourist attractions such as temples and hot springs on a regular basis for its foreign employees.
Emileo Navao, 25, who has been working for 19 months at the company, says that he does not regret his decision to come to Korea. “I really appreciated it when the company took some pictures and sent them home to my family,” he says. “I am urging my brother to come here as well.”
As small- and medium-sized manufacturing companies find it harder and harder to recruit the necessary manpower domestically, companies have found that their foreign workforce has become an essential part of their operations. Hence the need to improve working conditions and living conditions has become a must for many companies in order to keep operations running smoothly and prevent foreign workers from leaving for work elsewhere.
Last August, the quota for foreign trainees was raised from 80,000 to 130,000. Nevertheless, industrial experts believe that at least 200,000 are needed to solve the current manpower shortage problems.
Located in South Gyeongsang province, Kumho NT, with more than 20 foreign trainees so far, sends its foreign employees home for a week each year at the company’s expense. Companies such as Daegwang Electronics have switched their cafeterias to a buffet system so that their foreign employees can eat a variety of foods. Geum Sung Precision Co. has made it a policy to give the same salary and fringe benefits to its foreign workers as its Korean employees.
Taking care of cultural problems is also one aspect that companies like Taesan Precision have paid attention to, as the company takes into account Islamic holidays such as Ramadan, lets its Indonesian Muslim workers off work earlier during the Ramadan period and provides more flexible dining hours.
Lim Seung-hwan, senior manager at the Korea Federation of Small and Medium Businesses, says companies have taken a greater interest in the well-being of their foreign employees because both sides need each other. “At the end of the day, an enhanced relationship between the two parties creates a more efficient workplace and it is also good for the competitiveness of the country,” he says.
by Jung Hyun-mok