Foreign workers given unsuitable jobs

By Lee Woo-young
  • Published : Apr 15, 2012 - 20:15
  • Updated : Apr 15, 2012 - 20:15
Foreign migrant workers ill-informed of job description before coming to Korea

A human rights watchdog recently ruled that assigning an Indonesian Muslim to a job at a pork processing factory is an infringement of human rights.

A similar case was reported to the Joint Committee with Migrants in Korea, a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting the human rights of foreign migrant workers, this time involving another Indonesian Muslim worker who was assigned to a dog-breeding farm.

“He didn’t know he was supposed to work at a dog-breeding farm before he came to Korea. He was not informed of his job in Korea before he came here,” said Kwon Oh-hyun, executive secretary of JCMK.

Not all Muslims find as unclean as pigs, but watching dogs bred for eating was a shocking experience for him.

Such incidents happen largely because foreign migrant workers are ill informed of their jobs in Korea when they are permitted to work here. When they are given a labor contract, they often sign it without knowing in detail about what they will be doing for work.

“The labor contract is written both in Korean and English, and sometimes in the native language of the foreign workers. But the detailed job description is written in Korean most of the time,” said Mun Hyun-tae, director of the employment planning team of Human Resources Development Services of Korea, which is in charge of selecting foreign workers and managing them.

Although foreign workers must meet a certain level on the Test of Proficiency in Korean under the current employment permit system, their language ability is still limited. 
Foreign workers listen to instructions about a skills test in a vocational competition in Incheon on Saturday. (Yonhap News)

“Another weird match happened years ago when a Nepalese man was assigned to a coastal fishery company where he had to catch fish despite the fact that he has never seen the sea in his whole life,” said Kwon.

“It’s nonsensical to have him work in the fishery field. They could’ve sent workers from the Philippines or Indonesia for such job,” Kwon added, “There are no guidelines on matching foreign workers with local companies.”

Foreign migrant workers can choose from four industries ― manufacturing; agriculture, livestock and fishery; construction; and service industries.

Most workers prefer manufacturing because the working hours are fixed. But for those desperate to make money to send to their families, waiting for their desired choice is sometimes a luxury they cannot afford. They sometimes take any available job, though it can be demanding, in order to avoid waiting for a long time before they are hired.

Mun said the problems would cease if his department were more careful in matching foreign workers with local companies.

The mismatch problem is aggravated by the limit in the number of workplace changes to three and ambiguous conditions related to work site changes.

If their job is different from what is written in the contract, foreign workers can switch workplaces, but if they do so, then they may run out of options to change again when something worse comes up.

“Limiting reassignment to three times has caused human rights-related problems for foreign workers, so we recommended changing the rule in the direction of giving more leeway to workers regarding working conditions,” an NHC official said.

The law has been revised after the NHC recommendation, but conditions for a job switch are still vaguely defined so that of foreign workers’ human rights are still being violated, according to a report by Kim Jong-se, law professor of Keimyung University and a director of the multicultural center of the university.

In reality, foreign workers do not get their complaints across very well to officials at labor support centers run by the Labor Ministry due to language barriers or red tape.

“Labor support centers seem to take the employers’ side. If a foreign worker was injured at work, they require medical records, and even if a worker submits the records, they are rejected most of the time on the grounds that they fail to meet the standards for the acknowledgement of injuries as ‘industrial accidents.’ One of the standards is that injuries should require more than five weeks of treatment,” said Kwon.

Kwon also said that the labor law regards swearing as a form of violence.

Kim Chun-hong, director of the education division of NHC, stressed the need for the education of employers in multiculturalism.

“We visit local employers and give a lecture on human rights and foreign cultures. We are trying to raise their understanding of different cultures and human rights,” said Kim.

By Lee Woo-young  (