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Plant construction workers oppose foreign labor

Foreign workers with lack of experience could lead to fatal accidents, current workers say

By Lee Jaeeun

Published : Feb. 14, 2024 - 15:11

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Members of the Korean Plant Construction Workers’ Union, under the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, stage a rally in front of the Ulsan branch of the Ministry of Employment and Labor on Wednesday. (KCTU) Members of the Korean Plant Construction Workers’ Union, under the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, stage a rally in front of the Ulsan branch of the Ministry of Employment and Labor on Wednesday. (KCTU)

Hundreds of plant construction workers held a rally Wednesday to urge the government not to allow plant construction companies to hire foreign workers.

The Korean Plant Construction Workers’ Union, under the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, staged rallies across the country, including in Seoul, Yeosu in South Jeolla Province and Ulsan.

“Many Koreans are facing difficulties finding jobs at plant construction sites as construction business continues to stagnate. We condemn the Yoon Suk Yeol administration that listens to plant construction companies, which want to use manpower cheaply through foreign workers,” an official from the Korean Plant Construction Workers’ Union said.

“An accident at these facilities would have a significant adverse impact on the lives and property of the public. Therefore, reckless use of foreign workers with E-9 visas at plant construction sites may cause problems in communication, which could lead to fatal industrial accidents,” the official added.

Currently, E-9 visa is issued for migrant workers wanting to engage in jobs that require manual or nonprofessional labor. Holders can work in food service, hospitality, agriculture, fishing, manufacturing and construction, but this does not include some specialized roles like plant construction.

However, as plant construction companies have claimed there is a severe shortage of workers, the government is now considering whether or not to allow them to hire foreign workers with E-9 visas.

“As of today, we declare to fight against the government using all our resources to prevent the government from allowing foreign workers to work at plant construction sites,” the Korean Plant Construction Workers’ Union announced.

Construction companies have urged the government for years to ease regulations so that they can bring in foreign labor.

“There is a severe shortage of workers for a series of factory construction projects in southern regions. The government should make efforts for construction firms to use foreign workers at plant construction sites,” Cho In-ho, chairman of the Korea Mechanical Construction Contractors Association, told SMEs Minister Lee Young at a meeting in September last year.

In order to prevent the dissemination of important technologies, since 2007, Korea has banned companies from hiring foreign workers in key industries, including the construction of power plants, steel mills and petrochemicals factories. Construction companies argue that foreign workers would not be in a position to steal important technology, as they would be deployed for such tasks as welding and plumbing.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Employment and Labor has said the government is carrying out an investigation to look into the situation, and that nothing has been decided regarding the issue.