Those from developing nations should be treated well by KoreaIf one were to form an opinion about Korea’s labor unions through the behavior of the larger ones, it could hardly be positive. After all, large unions, such as the pilots’ union at Asiana Airlines, protest to dodge drug tests and wield management power, and they do so while damaging Korea’s economy.
However, these major unions, including a militant umbrella union, are not the only ones out there, nor are they the only workers.
In numerous oft-unrecognized parts of Korea, there are unionists at smaller companies who battle it out, often because they are beaten, aren’t paid their wages or suffer from work-related physical impairments. They are migrant workers, and many of them come from Southeast Asia.
Of course, this isn’t to say all Koreans abuse laborers from developing countries. There are many Koreans who improve the livelihoods of migrant workers, collecting long-overdue wages, providing necessary medical attention and assisting their families to assimilate to life in a country with a homogenous population that is largely unappreciative of their economic contributions.
Such positive images, however, are easily forgotten when negative ones emerge.
The culprits responsible for a recent hostage crisis at an international school in Cambodia were after the children of their abusive Korean employer. According to those who work in the development field in Southeast Asia, negative sentiment toward Koreans exists thanks to abusive employers and factory owners.
Meanwhile, when much of Asia is fed up with the Burmese generals, a Korean oil company is cooperating there with Total, a French oil company, benefiting itself and feeding a murderous regime.
Combining such questionable behavior with what migrant workers go through in Korea, it is inevitable that more Southeast Asians view Korea unfavorably.
With population flow increasing between Northeast Asia and developing countries, the South Korean government and its people need to be wary of how they treat Southeast Asians.
Korea may not be a China or a Japan, but it is no longer a developing country. Today, Korea is undoubtedly one of Asia’s most influential countries economically and, hopefully in the future, militarily.
Mistreating those from weaker nations, in their countries and in Korea, not only harms them, but also the interests of Korea’s future generations.
The Korean government and businesses have much to do to improve Korea’s image and, more importantly, expand Korea’s influence.
Korean unionists also have a critical role, and they may want to start by channeling their energy to laborers suffering the most in Korea. It’s certainly not the globe-trotting pilots.
by Mingi Hyun