Human Rights Violations of Migrant Workers in South Korea Vis-A-Vis Other Countries Thesis

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Human Rights Violations of Migrant Workers in South Korea Vis-a-Vis Other Asian Countries

The UN and Worldwide Human Rights Violations

United Nations special rapporteur on human rights of immigrants Jorge Bustamante

said that the UN was investigating violations to these rights (Deen 2006). The violations included abusive working conditions, non-payment of wages, arbitrary detentions and illegal deportations. Urgent appeals or letters of allegation on the complaints were sent to the respective governments, which included requests for visits. The letters and requests for visits were sent to the governments of Australia, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, South Korea, Mauritania, South Africa, Canada, the Philippines, the United States and Spain, signifying that the complaints occurred in these countries. The countries send or receive migrants and most of these migrants come from developing nations (Deen).

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Complaints and allegations of human rights violations included maltreatment at border controls, deaths from extreme force by police and security teams, summary expulsions, gender violence, forced labor, withholding passports, restricted movement and infringement on the right to association and assembly (Deen 2006). The UN also said that there were 191 million international migrants in the previous year, more than 38 million in the U.S. Or almost 13% of its total population. Of this number, 115 were found in developed countries. One out of five was in the United States. The UN identified the major issue as irregular or unauthorized migration. It reported that the U.S. had 11 to 12 million irregular migrants as compared with South Korea with 140,000; Japan with 221,000; Australia with 60,000; and New Zealand with 20,000 (Deen).

South Korea's Unresolved Human Rights Concerns

National Security Law, Military Service, Death Penalty

Thesis on Human Rights Violations of Migrant Workers in South Korea Vis-A-Vis Other Countries Assignment

These included the National Security Law, imprisonment of conscientious opponents to military service and the Death Penalty (HRW 2007). Human rights supporters also cried out against widespread maltreatment of migrant workers and the South Korean government's reluctance to recognize non-Korean refugees and asylum seekers. Those who expressed pro-North Korea sentiments or performed pro-North Korea activities continued to be arrested under the National Security Law. They criticized the government for the application of this Law, which was used to arrest opponents who expressed their views. The National Human Rights Commission recommended the abolition of this Law in September 2004 to the National Assembly chairman and minister of justice. The Commission grounded its recommendation on the human rights violations inflicted by the Law itself. Adult men were required to render 26 months of military service. In April 2005, the Commission also recommended the abolition of the death penalty and no response had been received. Prostitution is also illegal in South Korea but brothels crowd the areas around U.S. military bases. Sex workers suffer grave abuses. Migrant sex workers suffer more as language and culture barriers make their situation worse. Most of them are illegal aliens who cannot seek help for the abuses to which they are subjected. A law was enacted in September 2004 against those who impose Prostitution on their employees. The law worked against traffickers and brother owners but did not protect the sex workers themselves. Many of them were simply driven underground where they became exposed to even more grievous conditions (HRW).

Migrant Workers' Rights

In August 2003, South Korea passed the Act, which allowed firms to legally employ undocumented workers who have been in the country for less than four years (HRW 2007). But those who had stayed for more than four years were told to leave by the middle of 2003 with a commitment of acceptance from South Korea if they returned with legal work permits after six months. Amnesty International reported in August 2006 that two-thirds of the 360,000 migrant workers in the country were undocumented. These workers were not allowed to organize themselves into trade unions. They suffer from severe human rights violations, such as discrimination, physical and verbal abuse by employers, and limited recourse in the event of violations. Female migrant workers were also said to be subjected to sexual harassment and violence. Those detained were subjected to physical abuse in detention facilities (HRW).

Forced Deportation, Denial of Medical Attention

Asian Human Rights Commission sought intervention for undocumented migrant workers in South Korea, particularly those forcibly deported and denied medical treatment while detained (OMCT 2004). Those denied medical treatment were on a hunger strike against the government's pursuit of undocumented migrant workers. This rash of violations was viewed as the consequence of the August 2003, sending away migrants who had stayed in South Korea for more than four years. Between November and December that year, at least 3000 of them were deported. Only 10,000 left voluntarily. The rest escaped to the mountains to avoid deportation. Many cases of harassment and arbitrary detention were reported since then. As of March 2004, the government expressed to persist in cracking down migrant workers. A few took their lives in fear of deportation while others perished in accidents in the course of the crackdowns. The law penalizes firms that employ these workers up to three years of imprisonment and a fine equivalent to $17,000. This meant that migrant workers were subjected to terminations because of the law (OMCT).

The Trainee System

South Korea operates the Industrial Trainee System, or ITS, as a common source of cheap and pliable labor (OMCT 2004). It permits the systematic exploitation and abuse of foreign workers. It guarantees only a three-year legal stay in the country and only as trainees, not as legal workers. After this time, they must leave South Korea. In the three years they are allowed to stay as trainees, they have no legal rights or bargaining power. They cannot acquire protection from labor unions or state regulatory bodies as non-legitimate workers. This is their status even if they perform the same or equal tasks as regular employees. As trainees, they are mostly employed in small factories for labor-intensive duties. They perform dirty, perilous and difficult jobs for very low pay, which is around U.S.$350 a month. They also work for long hours and without labor rights. They cannot collect compensation for work-connected accidents or disease. These are among the reasons why trainees abandon their jobs and take the risk of working illegally and losing more rights. Recent statistics say that 80% of all foreign workers in South Korea are illegal migrants (OMCT).

The original intent of the System was to help Korean firms with subsidiaries or operations abroad bring in foreign employees to upgrade the skills of the employees of these firms (OMCT 2004). When small manufacturing firms (APMRN 2009) encountered labor shortage, the government resorted to the System to ease the shortage . But faulty implementation created problems. The trainees' wages were lower than those of undocumented foreign workers. Foreign trainees felt disappointed in gaining skills and knowledge through training because they were substituted for laborers. Escaping foreign trainees were more easily caught than escaping foreign workers. Trainees were charged exorbitant fees by foreign recruiting agencies. And the System created diplomatic problems with countries sending foreign trainees (APMRN).

Treatment of Foreign Workers in Other Asian Countries

Of the 10 ASEAN member-countries, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand were the hardest-hit by the recent economic crisis (Wickramasakera 2000). Of the three, Indonesia has been a major labor-sending country, which suffered drastic and sharp declines in GDP grown, business and capital outflows. These naturally resulted in a rise in local unemployment and layoffs, which affect migrant workers in these countries. The economic crisis in the region immediately reduced overall demand for labor. This shock was most felt in the construction sector, which absorbed most foreign workers. Besides direct job losses, decline or loss of wages and other benefits were incurred by those who remained. They were treated as disposable items for the jobs of local workers (Wickramasakera).


Malaysia and Thailand have the largest numbers of irregular workers among ASEAN countries (Wickramasakera 2000). Regular and irregular migration in these countries is believed to evolve from certain root causes. These are restrictive immigration policies in receiving countries, acute poverty and unemployment in sending countries and the resulting pressure to emigrate, political suppression and armed conflict, and malpractices of private recruiting agencies (Wickramasakera).

A recent study revealed that a large number of young foreign migrant workers in Thailand endure many forms of exploitation (Human Trafficking 2006). These ranged from the non-payment of, or low, salaries; extremely long working hours; forced labor and trafficking. More than half of all the surveyed domestic workers and one in five migrant adolescents working in fishing boats said they were not allowed to leave their places of work or forced to work as "virtual slaves."

The employers subjected the young migrants to physical assault, forced labor, denial of the freedom of movement, verbal abuse and assigning children to perform hazardous tasks. A high 82% of migrant domestic workers and 45% of migrant workers in fishing boats said they worked for more than 12 hours a day and without the benefit of leave. The study interviewed approximately 1,000 migrant workers from Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia who… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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