he Employment Permit System (EPS) is supposed to be a win-win solution for South Korean employers struggling to find workers and Asian workers seeking higher-paying jobs overseas.
The 16-year-old system, however, has been criticized for leaving workers vulnerable to abusive practices and even “slave-like” exploitation by employers.
At the center of the dispute is a clause in the legislation that effectively bans workers from changing workplaces.
“Any laborer has freedom to choose and change a job. But for migrant workers, the Korean government is not recognizing these basic rights,” said Udaya Rai, head of the Migrants Trade Union. “That’s why appalling working conditions where migrant workers have been forced to work are not improving.”
Launched in 2004, the employment permit system has been a major platform to bring in foreign workers from 16 countries to meet labor shortages at small and medium-sized firms here in the manufacturing, agricultural and fishing sectors. Those low-skilled jobs are often shunned by Korean workers for their poor working conditions and low pay. Currently, there are about 248,000 migrant workers here under the EPS.
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