[EDITORIALS]Work permit system nowThe enactment of a work-permit system for foreign laborers in Korea is likely to be voted down at the National Assembly plenary session on Thursday. If the law is rejected by the assembly, some 200,000 foreign workers employed mainly at small businesses will be forced to leave the country by the end of August. If this happens, the Korean economy, which is already in dire straits, will be further harmed as small industries will suffer from an acute manpower shortage, chain bankruptcies and closures.
Earlier, the bill was expected to pass the assembly easily. But the outcome has become unclear since the Grand National Party, which holds the majority of seats in the Assembly, decided to allow free voting by its lawmakers. Some of the GNP lawmakers decided to vote against the bill on the grounds that it will allow demands for wage hikes and labor disputes by foreign workers. Many other representatives are likely to join them. Lawmakers can vote according to their will, but the social consensus reached during legislation of the bill should be honored.
The bill was approved by the Assembly’s Environment and Labor Committee and the Legislation and Judiciary Committee on July 15. Before that, the ruling and opposition parties agreed to enact both the work-permit system and the industrial trainee system simultaneously. Not only labor, but also management, which opposed the bill originally, have agreed to cooperate to enact the bill early. Likewise, the controversy over the introduction of the permit system, which started in 1995, was about to bear fruit. Now that it is in the final stage of voting, it is not right that politicians change their attitude.
The system should be introduced to give better treatment to foreign workers and facilitate manpower supply, according to changing market demands. Its introduction was pledged by both parties during last year’s presidential election campaign. Opponents worry about wage hikes, but in Hong Kong and Singapore, wages went down after such a system was introduced. The work-permit system must be enacted during this assembly session.