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Message-ID: <Pine.GSO.3.95.970613060028.2218C-100000@sunrise.ccs.yorku.ca>
Date: Fri, 13 Jun 1997 06:06:06 -0400
Sender: Forum on Labor in the Global Economy <LABOR-L@YORKU.CA>
From: Sam Lanfranco <lanfran@YORKU.CA>
Subject: South Korea—ALARM Action Alert (340 lines long)

Date: Fri, 13 Jun 1997 16:46:37 +0800
From: AMC <amc@HK.Super.NET>
Subject: ALARM Action Alert—South Korea

ALARM Action Alert—South Korea

From ALARM, 13 June 1997

Urgent request for international solidarity with JCMK for the government’s prompt passage of the protection law for migrant workers.

The process to pass the new law to protect migrant workers in Korea is dragging. More than a year has passed since citizens’ groups began campaigning for the reform of the infamous Industrial Technical Trainee Program (ITTP) and several draft bills have been drafted for the 1996 session of the National Assembly.

Recently, however, at a meeting of the Economic Planning Ministers, officials decided to establish a law for migrant workers. But, because the employer federations, mainly the KFSB (Korean Federation of Small Business—represents small and medium sized companies), vehemently opposes the law, it appears it won’t be passed at all.


The KFSB and other groups have been lobbying against the bill, especially against the Work Permit included in some drafted bills (explained below). However, as we approach the next National Assembly, KFSB’s opposition has become even more fierce, and for example, rallied intensely against the new bill last Thursday (June 5, 1997) in part to keep it off the agenda at the next Assembly session.


If the KFSB campaign succeeds, then any law regarding migrant workers will not even be discussed at the next National Assembly session, despite the fact that at least 4 bills have already been drafted. The current goals of JCMK’s (Joint Committee of Migrang Workers in Korea) action is to press the government to not drop the discussion on migrant workers’ rights and the Protection Law in the upcoming Assembly session.

Since June 2, 1997, JCMK has staged a sit-in at the Human Rights Center of the Korean National Council of Churches. JCMK will also picket in front of KFSB on Tuesday 17, and will organize a mass rally on June 22 around the time of the National Assembly, expected to open in mid to late June. The fight over the content of the laws can only happen if we win the fight for the bills to be considered at the National Assembly.


There are at least 4 different draft of bills on the table. One is drafted by various factions, including JCMK and other religious migrant support centers, and by different National Assembly lawmakers from opposition parties. The drafted bill by the migrant support groups contains three major provisions:

1. Abolishment of the current ITTP and the implementation of Work Permit System:

Currently, the only legal way that migrants, most from the Third World, can come to work in Korea is through the infamous ITTP. This program is an apprenticeship system in which migrant workers in reality are not trained but severely exploited. Instances of extremely low wages, long working hours, bad working environment, confiscation of passports and visas, housing control etc. are common practices by employers. The underlying problem in this system is that workers are not considered as fully qualified workers (but as participants in a learning program), and thus are not entitled to their labor rights.

Thus, migrant support groups advocate abolishing the current ITTP and introducing the Work Permit System, that would allow migrant workers to enjoy the same rights as Koreans workers. The draft does not limit migrants to only workers’ three basic rights, but also benefits such as pension, retirement benefits, and so forth.

The recognition of migrants as workers is the core point by the support group based on their principle as equal work; equal treatment and no racial discrimination against migrants. .*See NOTE

2. Amnesty to undocumented migrants:

Secondly, migrant support groups advocate that the Korean government allow undocumented migrants be granted amnesty and their status made legal, so they may work in Korea.

3. End to the Human Rights Violations

Thirdly, migrant supporters demand an end to the government’s violation of migrants’ basic human rights such as violence in detention centers, repression by arrests and deportations as a result of their organizing.

*NOTE: There is an Employment License System by proposed by the government. While the Work Permit system would allow a worker free choice and job mobility, the Employment License system limits migrants to the specific job they are hired for, e.g., migrant workers could only come to Korea to fill a specific job description, and then would have no job mobility once she or he came. After the contract expired, she or he would return to her or his country. This will probably have the effect of keeping migrants in the 3-D (dirty, dangerous and difficult) occupations. The ruling party is more likely to consider implementing the Employment License System if the discussions on the protection law occur in the National Assembly.


Please write a letter (sample letter is give below) to the Korean Government expressing your concern over the plight of migrant workers in Korea under the current ITTS and to therefore put the Protection Law on the agenda for deliberation at the upcoming National Assembly session. The next National Assembly is coming very soon, so please send your letter out before the opening of the session.


Dear President Kim Young Sam:

We write this letter to express our deep concern over the plight of more than 220,000 migrant workers in Korea,working under the Industrial Technical Trainee Program (ITTP) , and overstayed workers, a large number of whom have fled their trainee workplaces.

We are happy to acknowledge debates and discussions taking place in Korea for the reform of the ITTS to improve the situation of migrant workers, and that the Economic Planning Ministers recently decided to establish a law for migrant workers.

It is important that the new law does not become merely another dehumanizing control on migrant workers. We believe that a new law is necessary to improve migrant workers’ situation but only if the following provisions are incorporated: (1) the Work Permit System advocated by the Joint Committee of Migrant Workers in Korea (2) amnesty for present undocumented migrants, and (3) measures against the violations of migrants’ human and labour rights.

Therefore, we request that in this extraordinary session of the National Assembly you put the Protection Law on the agenda for deliberation of its contents and passage without fail, and thus reaffirm the importance of recognizing the problems that migrants face as a result of the ITTC.

Sincerely yours,

Please send your letter to:

President Kim, Young Sam
Political Affairs of the Blue House*
fax: (822)733-6362

Kyung Kyu Lee
Chariman of the National Assembly of Environment and Labor Committee
Fax: (822)784-7020

Korean Federation of Small Business
Fax: (822)782-8319

Please send a copy of your protest letter to JCMK (Fax: ( 822)708-4186) and ALARM <alarm@hk.super.net>

*equivalent to the U.S.A.’s White House


In order to sustain JCMK’s active lobby campaigns, JCMK seeks your financial support.

Financial contributions can be wire-transferred to

JCMK at:Chohung Bank
Address: 136-56 Yunchi-dong, Chongno-ku,
Seoul Korea 110-740) Account Number: 325-06-227109 Name: Choi Jung Kyu

For further information, please contact

4F, Samsun Bldg. 12-1 Samsun-Dong
1 Ga, Sungbuk-Ku, Seoul 136-041
Tel: (82) 2-744-9063
Fax: (82) 2-708-4186


We, the citizens, workers, religious, student and social justice organizations, who are working to end the human rights’ violations against migrant workers and the fraud faced by Korean Chinese, have been calling for the prompt reformation of the system regulating migrant workers. We earnestly hope that our nation will no longer have to be ashamed internationally, and we welcomed the report that it was recently decided in a meeting of Economic Planning Ministers within the government to establish a law for migrant workers. However, we were concerned that the vehement opposition of the KFSB, employment brokers and manpower agencies, vested interests which gain from the existing industrial trainee system, and certain government agencies would lead to the government’s stalling the passage of the law for migrant workers.

We are especially concerned by the news that the 5 major economic associations including KFSB, Korean Employers Federation had sent an official petitionary letter to the government in opposition to the passage of a work permit system and their statement that they are ready to campaign against it. For this reason, we want to make sure this time that the law for migrant workers be established without fail.

The present industrial trainee system must be completely done away with because, for the last couple years, this system has already caused serious social problems..

1. Currently, the migrant worker population numbers around 220,000, including about 140,000 overstayed workers, a large number of whom have fled their trainee workplaces. The main reason why overstayed workers run away from their workplaces is the impossibility of paying back their debts to the employment brokers/manpower agency.

Trainees are supposed to pay from US$3000 to, in the worst cases, US$10,000 just to enter Korea. Even though their brokers take commission out of their wages, there is no way for them to pay back even the interest on their debt let alone the principal. This situation forces them to find work outside the trainee company. As a result, they have become illegal workers. (In order to prevent these kinds of problems, KFSB set down the rate of brokerage commissions to a range of, at the least, US$300 for the people of Myanmar to, at the most, US$1,300 for the people of Pakistan. However, these stipulations have almost never been observed.)

2. There is much fraud committed by and against Korean Chinese. This includes incidents where thousands of Korean Chinese people are cheated. In most of the cases of fraud, they are pretending to recruit trainees. In actuality, because the brokers allow subcontractors to recruit Korean Chinese, a flood of fraud cases have occurred. The existing system cannot help the victims of such fraud.

3.Simply because they are trainees, industrial trainees cannot get a living wage and they suffer from a variety of difficulties, even though they are working just hard as other workers. For this reason, our nation is blamed for eroding basic human rights. These kinds of problems arose because the government did not assume its role of accepting trainees and regulating the trainee system, but rather deferred its responsibility to a particular class of people, the KFSB. Despite reform measures, the problems have not been fixed, so we must address the basic structure of the present industrial trainee system and end that system.

4. Presently the KFSB is vehemently opposed to the abolishment of the trainee system because the expenditures of the KFSB would increase and the conflicts between workers and management would also increase should migrant workers be guaranteed the 3 basic workers rights. The core reason is that they do not want to lose even a portion of their enormous profits. The 1995 assessment of the board of auditors and investigation confirms this to be the case. Let’s summarize the results of the assessment.

First, as stated previously, the brokers in the sending country receive enormous commissions, and send a big portion of it back to Korea as bribes or for lobbying.

Second, trainees are charged 340,000 won each to pay for KFSB’s management expenses. Supposing 73,000 trainees entered Korea as of March 1997, then KFSB’s income generated from those fees alone will amount to several billions of Won.

Third, every company that hires industrial trainees is required to give 300,000 Won to KFSB as a security deposit. If a trainee runs away from the company, then KFSB keeps the 300,000 Won security deposit. With a rough estimate of the current rate of trainees who run away from their workplace, we can guess just how much KFSB benefits from the existing trainee system.

Fourth, in actuality, the very small businesses that have to employ migrant workers aren’t able to simply hire them as a matter of course. It follows that those really small businesses must file a request to receive a trainee. If that doesn’t work, then they hire overstayed workers, and the reality is that these very small businesses must then pay them regular wages. Should it be disclosed that they are employing overstayed workers, they may be levied a huge fine of up to 10,000,000 Won. This occurs with only the very small businesses and it is one of the contradictions of the trainee system.

5. In reality, when the small and medium enterprises that employ migrant workers were asked in a survey What is the main reason why you employ migrant workers? about 70 percent answer that Because otherwise I can’t get othe manual laborers and only about 20 percent reply Because of the low wages. This is why t he very small enterprises agreed with the statement that Actually, it would be better to employ migrant workers legally so that we can instead focus our attention on production processes. Thus we definitely need a law. From this, it is evident that the majority of small enterprises would advocate a migrant workers law. When you look at it this way, the majority of small- and medium-sized enterprises as well as the small businesses would agree about the need to establish a migrant worker law; thus, it is only KFSB that, in order to protect its own interests, opposes the law.

In the long run, should we allow this industrial trainee system that hugely benefits business’ vested interests to continue, Korea will face international criticism and strong protests domestically. On the other hand, other Economic Organizations have followed suit. Namely, the 4 other major Economic Organizations have colluded with KFSB by agreeing to its shady rationalizations in order to protect those vested interests. We point this out, and demand an end to such collusion.

In a 1996 session of the National Assembly, JCMK and the Protestant churches submitted 60,000 signatures (under the leadership of Rev. Park, Hyung Gyu) with 60,000 signatures from Catholic churches (under the leadership of Cardinal Soo-Hwan Kim) along with a petition demanding the creation of a migrant worker protection law to reform the system.

Also, New Korea Party National Assembly Representative Jae-Oh Lee and 28 other NKP representatives submitted a bill while National Congress for New Politics Representative Young-Suk Bahng and 34 other representatives from the NCNP submitted another bill. Looking at the preparations of even the government, the making of a migrant worker protection law can no longer be postponed.

We emphasize that simply because a person is an industrial trainee is not a reason for them to be exploited as cheap labor, and that unscrupulous people should no longer be able to turn a tidy p rofit off of their labor.

We the 78 citizens, workers, religious, student and social justice organizations which have organized a joint committee for a migrant workers law will exert all our power in order to push for, without fail, the passage of a migrant workers law in this extraordinary session of the National Assembly.

2 June 1997 Joint Committee of Migrant Workers in Korea