Jan. 23  2020
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Stop Government Crackdown, Guarantee Labor Rights for Migrant Workers

On Dec. 18th, rallies against brutal police crackdowns on migrant workers were held in front of immigration offices in Seoul, Incheon, Uijeongbu, and Busan. Their demand: "Abolish the trainee system, stop the massive crackdown, amnesty for undocumented workers."

Source  :  BASE21

△Rally in front of the building of The Chamber of Commerce and Industry. (Copylefted by BASE21)

PatchA, Staff Reporter (

No Labor Rights' Society
Even though ten years have elapsed since the United Nations General Assembly adopted the "International Convention on the Protection of the Human Rights of All Migrants Workers and Their Families" on December 18, 1990, the situation of migrant workers in Korea has not improved much in the past eleven years. The U.N. decided that this convention is one of the seven most important human rights treaties in the world, but the South Korean government has not ratified it yet.

Furthermore, the government is now trying to strengthen the migrant workers trainee system. As a result, many undocumented migrant workers in Korea have been treated like criminals. They have always been afraid of the sudden and violent crackdowns carried out by the Korean Immigration Office, and now their lives are even more exhausting.

Seo Sun-young, an activist from the Equality Trade Union (ETU), said, "In 2001, the Korean government started to strengthen their labor restructuring program on migrant workers. Now, approximately 70% of all migrant workers are undocumented. It seems that through the trainee system and periodic police crackdowns, the Korean government tries to shrink from disgrace (it is shameful that about 70% of all migrant workers are undocumented)."
Seo continued, "President Kim Dae-jung won the Nobel Peace Prize last year, and many people around the world considered South Korea to be a human rights-oriented nation. So the government should be ashamed of this high number of undocumented migrants. But the trainee system is much more of an exploitative policy towards migrant workers since the South Korean government does not regard trainees as skilled workers, but as unskilled trainees. So their labor rights are not guaranteed. In addition, they earn about half of the minimum wage in Korea. (Minimum wage is approximately US$350--Ed). If they run away from their workplace, they immediately become undocumented. Since last June, there have been massive crackdowns, and many innocent, undocumented migrant workers were violently forced to go back to their countries."

In this worsening situation, the first labor union for migrant workers was established on May 26th of this past year. The name of the union is the Equality Trade Union. Its mission is to widely publicize the oppressed lives of migrant workers throughout the labor and human rights movements. Now, migrant workers can voice their opinions and demands just like Korean workers.

Inernational Migrant Workers Day in Bitter Cold Weather--Eight Degrees Below Zero

For the eleventh anniversary of the International Migrant Workers Day, from December 16th to the 18th, ETU sponsored many events, such as a cultural festival, workshops, and rallies in order to intensify the struggle against the South Korean government.

On the last day, ETU held rallies in four regions of Korea under the title of "Oppose Police Crackdowns Against Migrant Workers Throughout Korea." Activists publicized the issues surrounding migrant workers to pedestrians all day, shouting "Amnesty to undocumented workers, stop the crackdown, abolish the trainee system, and ratify the U.N. convention on the migrant worker's rights and their families!"

Even though the weather was eight degrees below zero, about 300 students from Sungshin Women's University, Ewha Womans University, and Yonsei University participated in these demonstrations all day long.

After the rally in front of the Immigration Office in Seoul, protestors tried to march to the Blue House so that they could deliver a protest letter to President Kim Dae-jung. But police blockaded their passage at Kwanghwamun subway station, so protestors and police ended up standing opposite to each other for thirty minutes.

President of Migrant Workers' Branch of ETU, Lee Yoon-joo said in her speech, "At the Mokdong Immigrant Office in Seoul, special riot police from the "1002" unit were waiting for us. I don't understand why they, the government, obstructed our voice on International Migrant Workers Day. I'm sure that in the end, the government decided to ignore our rights to live and work. Furthermore, the protest message could not be handed over because of intentional suppression by the police. We will break through this pressure with our strong struggle."

Shin Ji-sun, a student from Sungshin Women's University, said, "I'm very sorry that migrant workers could not be here even though this rally is against the Korean government's fierce policy towards them. This shows how severe the oppression by the government really is. I oppose the crackdown and will continually fight against it."

Yonsei University student Lee Chang-ho commented that the trainee system is a kind of "modern slavery system," which "strangles the necks" of migrant workers. He added that the government should "abolish the trainee system without delay."

We are organized and fighting by ourselves
In her speech, Lee Yoon-ju concluded, "This year, I think, was the most difficult. We did our best to inform the dangers of police crackdowns to common people and to workers. Now, migrants can voice their rights to work. We will try our best to make the migrant workers struggle more stronger in the future."

The Internationale then spread out into the cold sky of Seoul with the hopes of the migrant workers.

←Rally in front of the Mockdong Immigration Office


300,000 Migrant Workers' Protest Letter to President Kim, Dae Jung

We are migrant workers. We are so-called 'foreign worker' according to Koreans. We want to deliver this message to you on behalf of all migrant workers living and working on this land. However, we have doubt that you would read it, although we send such this letter to you or our call can be realized even with a little degree, you read it though. Nevertheless, we send letter to you with little expectation, for you are the president of this country who won the Nobel Peace Prize. Our letter is not begging for the good with that expectation toward you, but the way of our expression.

Around 260,000 migrant workers are working as status which your country did not permit staying in Korea and 100,000 migrant workers, 'trainees' are not treated as a worker, although they provide labor as a worker in workplace. We expect you to see such an irony. As other receiving countries, Korean industry called us and in result we contributed to the growth of your country, suffering harsh labor in 3D(difficult, dangerous, dirty) jobs. If your country, Korea did not need our labor, 360,000 migrant workers are not able to exist in this land, now. Nevertheless, anybody among us is not living with just legal treatment. We are not treated as a worker because we are a illegal stayer in accordance with Immigration Control Law or a trainee despite having the legal status according to Immigration Control Law.

As a matter of fact, hardships such as inhumane treatment, racial discrimination, forced labor, etc, we face, are things that you and Korean nationals already are aware of very well. The reason of such an plight of us lied in that Korean government put our labor into black market with the convenient and unlawful way. They adopted Trainee System for using cheap and docile labor, but many of us had no choice but to choose to be illegal stayer because of that. Because, your country did not have any visa for working legally, most of us got to enter into Korea with determination to be an illegal stayer with the burden of expensive broker's fee. On the other hand, anybody of us did not became illegal stayer to enjoy such uneasy status. You and Korean society do not understand so much about our reality that we are driven out from our country due to unemployment and poverty amidst the global economic crisis and then forced to become illegal stayer once again.

The government policy and media treat 260,000 of all undocumented workers as a criminal and moreover they agitate for taking us as people who cause social unrest with racial prejudice toward Korean nationals. We ask you. Who made us illegal? After you became president, Korea enjoys saying herself as 'human rights state'. Yet, your country does not take us even as a 'human being'. Your government is talking of extending barbaric trainee system or increasing number of documented workers by adoption of 'Employment Permit System', neglecting our reality that we live and work, because you and your government take us as a machine. You never tried to look trainees' lives of slavery which they could not help being forced to sign without enough interpretation, although "twelve-hours work a day" is written in working contract documents and bearing all sufferings by the menace of repatriation anytime. Trainee workers' labor rights and human rights are violated once again by the shallow calculation of employers' group that run-away rate may decrease if they give more chance to earn money through extending training period. In addition to this, denying the entity of migrant workers who are skilled in workplace, adjusted to Korean culture and already settled in this land as residents, and perpetrating crackdown and repatriation for decreasing number of illegal stayers are not reasonable measures and merely racist violence based on xenophobia.

We are living and working here. We buy clothes and food with indirect taxes like Korean nationals, use cellular phone and go to bank for remittance. We want you to take instruction that German government already adopted assimilationist policy, confessing "We called labor force, but human came" in 1960s. Now, we want you to come to the front and offer measures directly. We know so well the fact that the oppression on human rights against migrant workers, does not cause of employers who do not pay wages or compensation by industrial accident insurance, but of wrong policy against migrant worker of Korean government. Especially crackdown and repatriation are immoral behavior which imputes failure of your government policy to individual migrant worker. We can present clear-cut alternative measures to end structural oppression on human rights by government. Now, recognize our entity. Strong crackdown and repatriation is not only inefficient and but also bring the violation of human rights and dishonour. As long as there is not conversion of cognition for recognizing migrant worker's existence and entity, prevalence of social, cultural, racial discrimination and human rights violation are not inevitable. We call on you to legalize migrant workers, namely undocumented workers in Korea and ensure legal status equal with Korean worker in recognition of labor rights for all migrant workers including trainee and conversation instructer in Korea.

Especially, Dec. 18 is International Migrant workers' day. This is the day for celebration on passing 'International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families' unanimously in UN General Assembly in 1990. This convention is given attention and expectation from all over the world as the seven core human rights convention with 'Human Rights Declaration' by UN. When this convention enters into force, it will contribute to the promotion of worldwide migrant workers and their families' human rights. Now, nineteen states ratified and so 'entering into force' is coming. We do not understand that Korean government do not show active interest in convention of migrant rights, although Korea is receiving and sending country who have many Korean migrant workers oppressed and discriminated as undocumented worker or colored race in Japan, U. S., Australia, Canada, etc. As you know, UN ECOSOC also recommended Korean government to ratify this convention in a hurry. We want your government not to put aside only this international convention with not ratified among UN seven core human rights convention, any more.

We wish this chance of delivering our voice to be meaningful to you, known to the world as human rights president.

Buddist Community for Human Rights, KCTU Equality Trade Union in Seoul Gyeonggi Incheon Region Migrants Branch, Human Rights Solidarity for Migration·Women

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