[EDITORIALS]More work on worker systemA work permit system for foreign workers that has been under discussion since 1995 is going into effect today. Under the new system, the government takes the responsibility for importing and managing foreign workers so that employers who cannot get domestic workers can employ foreign workers legally. This is a practical way of employment that can improve Korea’s image by eliminating controversies over low wages and human rights violations, and it will make it possible to control manpower supply according to changes in the economic cycle. Here lies the reason why we demanded its introduction.
But the circumstances for implementation are not that optimistic. First of all, there are too many foreign workers who overstay in Korea. After a related law passed the Assembly on July 31, 2003, the government launched a sweeping arrest of overstayers, and the number dropped to 138,000. Now the number has increased to 172,000. When an illegal labor market of this magnitude exists, legal manpower will look for better conditions and choose illegal employment. As a result, the new system will be shaken.
Reducing the number of illegal workers will not succeed by giving only warnings to small and medium businessmen who employ them. It is difficult to expect them to agree to sending back illegal overstayers on whose skilled labor the operations of their factories rely and accept unskilled legal ones. Under the work permit system, the employer must provide four major social insurance benefits, and the financial burden is not small.
Nonetheless, if the government takes a lenient attitude toward illegal employment as it did before, the permit system will end up increasing the number of foreign workers greatly. At present, the number is over 420,000. If 79,000 who can be invited legally this year are added to this, the total will reach half a million. This is much more than the adequate number that the Korean economy can afford, 400,000, Before it is too late, the justice and labor ministries and the police must prosecute employers who hire illegal workers to warn them off.
It is also a problem that the permit system is implemented in tandem with the industrial trainee system, which is notorious for corruption, low wages and human rights violations. The industrial trainee system should be abolished. We urge the government to take follow-up measures.