OFWs in S. Korea condemn intensified crackdowns

Global alliance of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and families Migrante International supports the Filipino community and migrant communities of other nationalities in South Korea in their fight against intensified crackdowns on undocumented migrant workers.

The crackdown is a result of the South Korean government’s labor policy, the Employment Permit System (EPS). According to Garry Martinez, Migrante International chairperson, the EPS has been proven flawed and anti-migrant and should be scrapped.

The Philippine and Korean government signed an agreement on the EPS in 2006. Since then, some 500,000 workers from the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Mongolia and Indonesia have been brought to South Korea under its mandate. The EPS basically allows Korean employers who have failed to hire local workers to legally employ migrant workers.

However, Martinez said, the EPS has failed to ensure benefits and protect the rights of migrant workers. “Instead, since its implementation seven years ago, cases of labor and human rights violations against OFWs and other migrant workers continue to run rampant,” said Martinez.

One of the objectives of the EPS was supposedly to increase transparency of sending and receiving workers, and consequently protect migrant workers’ rights and prevent discrimination.

“However, there seems to be no monitoring system and companies and employers violate migrant workers’ rights without being held accountable. More Korean employers have been hiring undocumented migrants to be able to evade compliance on minimum wages, benefits and leaves. As a result, undocumented workers are being targeted by the Korean government’s violent and intensified crackdowns,” he said.

Martinez, himself an undocumented OFW in South Korea for 12 years before he was deported to the Philippines, added, “The present global economic crisis has unleashed so-called ‘protectionist measures’ characterized by crackdown operations and harsher immigration policies that bear down on irregular or undocumented workers, at the expense of their human rights.”

He said, “Undocumented migrants, who inevitably provide the solution to labor shortages or the clamor for cheap labor in host countries, are marginalized and exploited. They are less able to assert their claims and are more vulnerable to abuses because of their ‘illegitimacy’.”

“Being undocumented is never reason to be stripped of one’s fundamental human rights,” Martinez said.

According to records of Migrante International, the number of undocumented Filipino workers deployed in different countries has reached approximately 900,000 in 2007. “This number has continued to increase over the years, especially in light of continued unemployment and landlessness here in the Philippines. The growing number of undocumented OFWs worldwide is indicative of the ongoing crisis of forced migration and systemic economic crisis in the country.”

Martinez called on the Korean and Philippine governments to ensure the protection of undocumented OFWs in South Korea and to work for their legalization. “Our call is for regularization, not criminalization. Human rights, regardless of status, should not be violated. Undocumented migrants worldwide contribute greatly to the economies of their host nations and to the domestic economy as well in terms of their remittances.” ###