Way to Go is Together
By Jeong Gue-sun, President of FWR
Source :  Asian Workers News No. 136
"Even if I could live for only one day, I would like to live as a human being."
This was written on a picket at a migrant workers' rally, selected by migrant workers from the Korean song 'Labor as Iron', which they learned and sang at the FWR Summer Camp held in Goseong on August 3 and 4.
"Against discrimination! Against the crack-down", migrant workers shouted in a united voice at rallies held in Seoul, Daegu, Gumi and Busan on August 11, calling for abolition of the trainee system and being against the government crackdown.
More than 10 years have passed since migrant workers first started coming to Korea. However because of their, mostly, 'undocumented' status, it was difficult for them to speak up about their sub-human status and suffering in Korea. This was because they were afraid of arrest and deportation before achieving their dream of better lives for their families and to clear all their debts.
And because of their trainee status, they have had to bear bad work conditions, as they were afraid their employers would send them home, even though they worked 12 hours a day and they were only paid $US100∼200 per month and were kept, like prisoners, in their workplace dormitories on holidays.
Now however, the attitude of migrant workers is changing. They are voicing their opinions loudly. They stand at the centre of the movement for 'Abolition of the Trainee System and Enactment of the Work Permit System' instead of allowing supporting NGOs to stand up for them, as they have previously done because of their unstable status.
After the Korean government announced its 'Improved policy of foreign manpower' on July 15, developed to maintain the trainee system and increase the number of trainees and undocumented migrant workers going home before March 31, 2003, NGOs supporting migrant workers in Seoul organised the Struggle Committee for Abolition of the Trainee System & Against the Crack Down. Started on July 20, the Committee has been staging a sit-in rally in front of Myeong-Dong Cathedral since July 22.
In Busan, Gyeongnam province thirty NGOs organised The Busan-Gyeongnam Common Committee for Abolition of the Trainee System & Guaranteeing Basic Rights of Migrant Workers and is planning rallies and a public hearing during August and September.
And the 'Council of National Literature Artists', which is organised by poets and artists, is planning special events to raise funds for migrant workers. Famous poets, writers, singers and artists are standing together with migrant workers.
To improve migrant worker rights and status is important not only for migrant workers, but also for Koreans. Firstly, to guarantee migrant workers right to and status as labour, because agreement to this, as a members of Korean society, is to recognize their suffering from our inhuman attitude and discrimination.
Because they are from poorer countries than ours, we have egoistically regarded it as not being a problem in giving migrant workers low salaries and to allow them to work much harder than us. We have not seen the immorality of regarding it as not being a problem to swindle migrant worker salaries or industrial accident insurance. And we have not seen the Philistinism of politicians, who have sold their promises for money. For these reasons, migrant workers are suffering and the conscience of Koreans has been violated.
Secondly, we, migrant workers and Koreans who stand with them and listen attentively to them, are moving forward to achieve the basic rights for migrant workers and amnesty for undocumented migrant workers. I hope migrant workers will soon be welcome members of Korean society and that Korean society will have an open mind, so as to understand different cultures and to live together with people from different countries.
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