Wednesday, 28 January 2015

International support needed by migrant agricultural workers in South Korea

International support is needed to help end trafficking and forced labour of migrant agricultural workers in South Korea by signing an Amnesty International petition to the government there. 

Amnesty’s Bitter Harvest report shows that despite having the tenth highest average wage globally, South Korea badly abuses those who grow and rear its animals. 
250,000 migrant workers are employed under the Korean Employment Permit System the workings of which have led to the repeated raising of concerns by Amnesty and many UN bodies. 

Migrant workers are restricted from changing jobs and challenging abusive practices by employers. This leaves them open to serious exploitation. Amnesty discovered that most are working 10 hours a day and 28 days a month. Few are paid for exceeding their contractual hours or given any paid leave. Late wage payments and work related health problems are the norm. The accommodation and food provided as part of the salary package is generally substandard. Half of the migrant workers are illegally subcontracted during the off-season, putting them at risk of arrest and deportation. 

Speaking up is dangerous with many migrant workers reporting threats to terminate their contract, verbal abuse and violence when they did so. Approximately, one-sixth of migrant workers interviewed told Amnesty they had been physical assaulted. A similar number had their identity documents confiscated. 

It is a bleak picture made worse by article 63 of South Korea’s Labour Standards Act (1977) that specifically omits the requirement for the agriculture sector to offer basic protections on working hours, paid rest days and daily breaks. Finding alternative employment is only permitted if a migrant worker, many of whom have taken on debts at home to secure overseas work, can obtain a signed release form from their employer. Most won’t sign without a bribe. 

The South Korean authorities cannot be relied upon to resolve work issues. None of those migrant workers who reported they had approached government-run job centres and labour offices received adequate assistance. Most were advised to return to their employers to apologise. 

The South Korean government carries out inspections of workplaces employing foreign workers. In 2011 they uncovered 7,994 violations, a quarter of which related to wages and working conditions. Fines were imposed in just 74 cases. Only six cases resulted in prosecutions. 

In a bid to dramatically improve the situation facing the migrant workers, Amnesty is campaigning to get the South Korean Government to accept a number of recommendations including scrapping article 63. 

Please help migrant agricultural workers in South Korea by signing the Amnesty petition to the Minister of Employment and Labour. 

Bitter Harvest can be downloaded from 

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