[EDITORIALS]Enforce new labor lawMore than 110,000 illegal foreign workers went into hiding because the government will soon start a crackdown, disturbing the labor market. Most of the workers have stayed in Korea for more than four years, and thus were left out of the new program arranged by the government for persons who had been here for less than that length of time. Some manufacturing industries that depend on those illegal foreign workers are ready to continue employing them despite the threats of fines.
Small manufacturers are suffering from severe labor shortage because Koreans don’t want low-paying factory jobs. Times are hard for them, but the government should stay the course and enforce the law. If it loosens the rules or offers a blanket amnesty, as some people suggest, Korea would be a paradise for illegal workers. The government’s plan to stabilize the supply of foreign labor according to industry demand, through the employment permission program, would go up in smoke.
Despite complaints by small manufacturers, the government has to take a wider point of view. If it overlooks the illegal presence to solve the short-term problem, there will be tremendous national cost later because our industry structure will not be reformed.
Of course, our factories have to have workers, and we have to get through the period until next August when foreign workers will be able to get a five-year employment pass. Seoul should take action to find jobs for the estimated 20,000 unemployed foreigners here on factory floors where they are needed.
For now, at least, the government should enforce the law efficiently. There must be good cooperation among the Labor Ministry, the prosecutors and police and the immigration authorities. Shelters for foreign workers, which can now house only 1,000 persons, should be expanded greatly.
With the new system, workers will be guaranteed the time to receive unpaid wages before they have to leave the country; human rights abuses will become less common in general. The government’s responsibility is to enforce the new law that it worked hard to bring into effect.