A vinyl greenhouse used as accommodation for foreign migrant workers at a farm in Gyeonggi Province. (Yonhap)
The government said Wednesday it will not issue employment permits to those who provide foreign workers with unsuitable shelters such as makeshift structures inside vinyl greenhouses.
The move by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs comes after a Cambodian female worker at a farm in Pocheon, Gyeonggi Province, was found dead on Dec. 20 in a prefabricated dwelling unit with a malfunctioning heating system inside a greenhouse made of plastic after temperatures fell to minus 18 degrees Celsius.
Initial autopsy results showed that she had died of liver cirrhosis, but civic groups have demanded further investigation and government action to prevent such incidents from recurring.
According to survey results released by the ministry, out of the 3,850 foreign workers at 496 workplaces in the farming and fisheries sector, 70 percent said they were living in makeshift structures made of assembled panels (38.7 percent), containers (17.6 percent) and other shoddily built structures inside plastic houses (17.6 percent).
Only 25 percent said they were staying in houses. Another 2.6 percent said shared lodging facilities.
Those offering makeshift structures as shelters are required to report their residential usage to local governments, but 56.5 percent had not made the reports.
The improvised dwelling units with rooms and toilets were found to have privacy issues and pose fire hazards, the ministry said.
The ministry therefore decided to reject employment permit applications by employers that offer such improvised shelters, starting this month.
The employers are also required to provide foreign workers with ample information about where they will stay such as photographs before getting their work permits.
The ministry said it will inspect in advance makeshift buildings that have been reported for residential use, and tighten monitoring of workplaces so that those who provide false information lose their employment permits.
The ministry said it will also toughen supervision of working conditions so that violators of the labor relations law are instructed to rectify their offenses, or have their employment permits canceled.
As for the foreign workers who are already staying in such plastic homes, the workers are given the choice to shift to other workplaces, as owners of small farms and fishing boats can’t immediately find new accommodations for the workers, the ministry said.
Over 99 percent of foreign workers in the survey said they were staying in lodging offered by their employers.
By Kim So-hyun (firstname.lastname@example.org