South Korean Human Rights Monitor


Migrant Workers’ Plight in Working in Korea

Eunjung Cha December 12, 2012

Labor relations committee of Lawyers for a Democratic Society (or known in Korea as Minbyun), Labor Consultant Meeting for the Realization of Labor Rights, and Migrant Workers’ Union submitted a petition to the National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK). According to these three human rights labor organizations, a policy on the  migrant workers has to be abolished because it violates their human rights. [1]

The policy about migrant workers was implemented from the Ministry of Employment and Labor. In the past, the employment centers affiliated to the Labor Ministry provided information of the company lists to migrant workers so that they could change their workplaces easily. However, last year in August, the ministry changed the policy of migrant workers. The thing is that it became stricter: the employment centers are not providing company lists to workers anymore because they thought that migrant workers frequently change their workplaces and sometimes brokers are involved when workers get a job. Instead, the ministry is giving a list of migrant workers only to the companies so that the company can hire employees easily.

As a result, it became much difficult for migrant workers to get a job in Korea because they have to wait to be called from the companies. Moreover, according to the Act on Foreign Workers’ Employment, if migrant workers do not work for three months since the date of changing workplaces, they will be deported automatically. [2]

As stated in the Web portal Naver’s Knowledge Encyclopedia, migrant workers come to Korea through Employment Permit System (EPS), which was implemented in August, 2004. This system allows migrant workers to work in Korea for three years maximum. They also get an equal treatment as Korean workers within the National Labor Relations Act. [3]

In order to get a job in Korea, migrant workers have to pass Test of Proficiency in Korean (TOPIK). The problem is, however, only a few people are accepted from Korean government. In addition, those who are accepted are mainly assigned to 3D’s (Dirty, Dangerous and Difficult) jobs which require manual labors such as manufacturing, construction work and agriculture. This condition eventually leads migrant workers to higher chances of various accidents from workplaces. [4]

This year, on the 25th of November, NHRCK did itinerant counseling for migrant workers. Its purpose is to improve their human rights at the workplaces by solving problems they are currently facing. That is, NHRCK is planning to apply the contents gathered from counseling to examining current labor policies implemented from Ministry of Employment and Labor. [5] It would become good news for migrant workers if the process works out well.



[1] Hyunmin Jang, ‘Migrant workers, raised a petition to NHRCK for policy about changing workplaces’ (Newscham, 13 November 2012) <> accessed 2 December 2012

[2] Hwanbong Jung, ‘‘Policy from Ministry of Labor’ forces migrant workers out to become illegal aliens by preventing information of job markets’ (The Hankyoreh, 29 October 2012) <> accessed 2 December 2012

[3] Jangjoon Lee, ‘EPS and migrant workers’ (Various Kinds of Stories, 31 August 2012) <> accessed 2 December 2012

[4] Minwook Bae, ‘NHRCK, itinerant counseling for migrant workers’ (NAVER News, 25 November 2012) <> accessed 2 December 2012


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