[Newsmaker] Liberty Korea Party chairman’s comment favoring lower wages for foreign workers ignites controversy

By Kim Bo-gyung
  • Published : Jun 20, 2019 - 12:13
  • Updated : Jun 20, 2019 - 17:54

Main opposition Liberty Korea Party Chairman Hwang Kyo-ahn on Thursday sought to put the brakes on snowballing controversy over his speech targeting foreign laborers here, where he said that they “should not be given the same wage.”

“It was meant to optimize the minimum wage standard,” Hwang said, regarding his comments made Wednesday.

Hwang said it is “unfair” to ensure foreign workers receive the same level of wage as locals, citing the payment of taxes as justification.

Main opposition Liberty Korea Party Chairman Hwang Kyo-ahn (right) attends a breakfast meeting with small and medium-sized business owners in Busan earlier in the week. (Yonhap)

“Koreans have contributed to the country by paying taxes, among other ways. So (the government) maintains a consistent income and gives tax benefits for locals because they have fulfilled duties as citizens and will continue to do so,” Hwang said.

The comment was made during a breakfast meeting with small and medium- sized business owners in Busan.

Hwang’s remarks violate the country’s Labor Standards Act as well as the International Labor Organization Convention No. 111, which bans discrimination on the basis of nationality.

According to a report from the IOM Migration Research & Training Center, some 840,000 foreigners working in Korea created about 86.7 trillion won ($74.2 billion) in economic value in 2018.

Indicating the conservative party’s intention to institute a lower minimum wage for non-Korean workers, Hwang added that the party will “improve the wage issue concerning foreign laborers by legal revision.”

The Liberty Korea Party has continually sought to pass amendments aimed at lowering the minimum wage for foreign laborers.

A revision put forth by the main opposition’s Rep. Seong Suk-jun details exceptions to the minimum wage for “workers in the agriculture and fisheries industries with low labor productivity due to communication issues among other reasons,” seen as targeting foreigners.

Ruling Democratic Party of Korea spokesperson Lee Hae-sik criticized Hwang’s statement, saying it “instigates hatred against foreign laborers” and “could have a negative impact on the export-reliant country’s future trade.”

Lee also pointed out that lower wages given to foreigners could affect work conditions for other workers, including Koreans, in the industry, and hinder overall productivity. 

On Thursday, civic groups that support foreign workers in Korea held a press conference in front of Liberty Korea Party headquarters in western Seoul, demanding Hwang apologize and recant the statement.

“Chairman Hwang’s racist absurd remarks clearly stir discrimination against foreign workers. Immediately apologize and take back (the comments),” the civic groups said.

“Our society will not go along with Liberty Korea Party’s aim to garner votes (in next year’s general election) from the radical right by creating an environment that is discriminatory against social minorities, including laborers, women and sexual minorities,” they added.

By Kim Bo-gyung (