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“The Law is Preventing Employment”

Posted October. 31, 2004 23:11,   


Mr. Choi, the president of a company producing mobile phone chargers in Taean-eup, Hwaseong, Gyeonggi Province, is troubled with another unexpected problem that has come up since the recent recession. Orders have been increasing since the beginning of autumn, but there are no workers to operate the machines.

At the end of last year, Choi released all foreign workers due to the government’s regulation on illegal aliens and employed Korean workers. However, most of these workers left this spring; currently, only three are left.

Choi ended up going to the Employment Security Center in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province last week in order to employ foreign workers, but had to sigh in disappointment once again. Since at least nine to 10 workers are need to operate all of the machines, he wanted to employ more than five foreigners, but realized he could only employ one because of the regulation that “the number of foreign workers should not exceed half the number of local workers.”

Choi showed his vexation, saying, “We are hiring foreign workers because no Koreans are seeking employment here, but we are still supposed to limit the number of foreign workers based on local workers; do you think this makes sense?”

The “one company, one system” policy, where the company must choose between the Employment Permit System and the Industrial Trainee System, is becoming a “shackle” on the workplace. An official in a company that is already employing industrial trainees said, “It is impossible to hire more foreigners through the Employment Permit System even if we wish to.”

Many are voicing the opinion that employment procedures should be simplified. One employee of a plastic emissions company that recently hired three illegal aliens said, “We fired all 10 illegal aliens and tried to legally hire foreign workers through the Employment Permit System, but in order to do so, we had to look for local workers for a month, and even after the employment permit came out we were required to wait at least 40 days, including a one-month local training period, so we gave up on applying.”

There are also expressions of discontent over the abilities of the foreign workers. An employee of a company in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province that employed five Filipinos through the Employment Permit System last month said, “Human Resources Development Service introduced to us workers who they said could speak Korean, but it turned out they actually could not speak Korean at all,” and added, “They have had no work experience, so we are teaching them everything from the beginning.”

Because of such problems, it has become a recent trend of most business owners to turn their backs on the Employment Permit System and return to hiring illegal aliens, who can be put to work in a shorter period.

An official in the Ministry of Labor said, “Taking into consideration the situations of workplaces, we are contemplating abolishing the number limiting policy for companies that have less than 10 employees.”

Jong-Hoon Lee Jae-Myoung Lee taylor55@donga.com egija@donga.com