[EDITORIALS]Aid for foreign workersThe Ministry of Justice is in a hot spot deciding whether to push ahead with its plan to deport 300,000 illegal foreign workers. The ministry has been responsible for two previous delays. The first was to postpone the decision by one year until March this year and the second postponed a decision until August. If the government sends these workers away, work force shortages will severely affect small- to medium-sized firms.
The ministry’s difficult decision stems from the delay of passage of the Work Permit Bill at the National Assembly. The bill decrees that the government must take care of the management of foreign workers and guarantee foreign workers treatment equal to domestic workers, such as guaranteeing laborers’ rights, and to provide on-the-job insurance and health insurance.
By improving the work environment for foreign laborers who have been plagued with low wages and infringements of their human rights, the legislation can also contribute to improving the national image of Korea and control the supply of the work force in accordance with changes in the economy.
When the law goes into effect, about 200,000 foreign workers who have stayed in Korea less than three years will be allowed to legally stay for two years -- and be employed.
The bill, which has been backed by civic organizations, was introduced at the National Assembly Nov. 13. The government also has outlined its own draft. The enactment of the bill was one of the campaign pledges of both President Roh Moo-hyun and then-presidential candidate Lee Hoi-chang.
The National Assembly, after all the delays and discussions, now hesitates to pass the legislation. Lawmakers say they balk at at the thought of wage burdens on small- to medium-sized companies. If the legislation is delayed again, the ministry has to choose to either deport foreign workers at the end of August or postpone the deportation one more time. We believe the ministry must push the bill. If it is too burdensome to make all those changes at once, the ministry may need to think about adding a note, after passing the bill, that the changes be made gradually.