South Korean government urged to respect immigrant workers’ human rights
On Monday, the head of an association representing 470,000 immigrant workers in South Korea, called on the government to protect their human rights.

SEOUL (AsiaNews) – “Now that a Korean is heading the UN, it is time for Korea to care more about its 470,000 migrant workers suffering from inconvenience and invisible discrimination,” said Lee Chul-seung, head of the Joint Committee for Migrant Workers in Korea in a statement issued on Monday, December 18, designated by the UN International Migrants Day.

On Sunday, hundreds of migrant workers gathered at the Marronnier Park in Hyehwa-dong in Seoul to celebrate their day. However, the South Korean government has refused so far to sign the 2003 UN Convention on the Protection of the Human Rights of Migrant Workers and their Families. It claims that there are no migrant workers in Korea, only “industrial trainees”.

Mr Lee, who is also director of the Kyongnam Migrant Workers’ Counsel Office, the main organizer of the Migrant Arirang, and director of Open Society of the Multicultural Country, said that the government needs to redefine what it means by the term “workers”.

He criticised the term “industrial trainee”, saying that these “trainees” worked as hard as other workers but were not treated as workers because of how they are called.

“If they are really considered workers, they should all be guaranteed all their rights,” he said, adding that if “the government adopts the convention, then workers may have more freedom to choose their futures in Korea”.

Lee and his associates said the Korean government’s response to their request was positive toward changing the laws on migrant workers.

The Supreme Court has recently ruled that the Korean Labour Act should protect an industrial trainee in the same way as it does Korean workers.

For Lee migrant workers should be aware of their status and their rights as well. “They are workers in Korea. That means they have rights and responsibilities toward society. I hope they will stand up for themselves and be confident,” he explained.

Throughout his life as an activist for migrant workers’ rights, Lee defended badly treated migrant workers. “Some times they were not given their salaries on time, insulted or even kicked out of supermarkets and crowded places. I hope they [now] stand up for their own rights,” he said.