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2 Jun 2021

Lee Hyo-jin, The Korea Times

S. Korea: Migrant rights activists criticise employment permit scheme for facilitating labour exploitation & modern slavery

“[Exclusive] Employment permit system for migrant workers criticized as ‘modern-day slavery’”, 02 June 2021

… [S]witching jobs is difficult for migrant workers who enter Korea under the EPS, a system run by the Ministry of Labor and Employment.

During their initial stay, migrant workers under the EPS are technically allowed to change jobs up to five times, in the case of contract termination or expiration.

They may also "request" to end their contracts for other reasons, such as assault or sexual harassment by employers, payment delays or substandard housing conditions. Upon making the request, the workers need to submit evidence proving they have been mistreated, and receive employer approval in order to end the contract.

Such tough requirements make it virtually impossible for workers to switch jobs, according to migrant workers' rights groups.

Migrant rights activists believe that instead of listing the reasons allowing them to switch jobs, a requirement that significantly limits the labor rights of workers, the ministry should let them move freely to another workplace.

[ Kim Dal-seong, head of the Pocheon Migrant Support Center] argued that the … EPS scheme has given more power to business owners, while making employees highly vulnerable to unfair treatment and abuse. He said the government has long turned a blind eye to the issue, thereby turning the EPS into "modern-day slavery" that violates basic human rights and the labor rights of migrant workers.

Shehk al Mamun, a migrant worker-turned-labor activist from Bangladesh, said that giving workers with foreign nationalities the freedom to change jobs will naturally resolve many existing problems, such as the dire working conditions, appalling housing conditions, payment delays, violence and sexual harassment.

Kim and al Mamun said migrants groups have been urging the labor ministry to actively discuss this issue, but it has refused to do so, insisting that giving freedom of choice to migrant workers will reduce job opportunities for Korean nationals.