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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on July 23)

All News 09:13 July 23, 2016

Broken Korean Dream

Foreign workers from Southeast Asia and China are targets of all kinds of abuse by their Korean employers. This is not only a terrible shame on Koreans, who themselves achieved their economic miracle through the exportation of manpower to the Middle East during the 1970s, but also poses a barrier to the country's diversification that is pivotal to its future development.

The footage by KBS's prime-time news Thursday was troubling because it confirmed what has been feared but pushed to the margin of our collective attention. In one scene, a man jumped on a woman, grabbed her by the neck and shook her while she was screaming for mercy. The female foreign worker in the footage said in Korean, "I felt scared and he (the boss of her company) was strong." The scene followed her telling the boss that she was moving to another company.

A Filipino worker showed pictures of bruises on his arm, saying that he, a man in his 50s was beaten up by a Korean supervisor, a man in his 20s, for being discourteous. "I called the police to stop him from hurting my colleagues." A Chinese worker said that he was facing deportation as his employer called the police after he demanded back wages be paid.

Korea now has nearly 2 million foreigners residing in the country, accounting for nearly 4 percent of its entire population. About 260,000 of them are legal foreign workers. About 80 percent of them are working in the manufacturing sector on so-called three-d (dangerous, difficult and dirty) jobs shunned by Koreans. Plus, there are a significant number of foreigners who overstay their visas to work as illegal aliens.

In other words, foreign workers should be recognized as a key part of the workforce for Korea Inc. If our current and future manpower shortage from the low birth rate is considered, they should be protected and respected. Plus, treating them unfairly is beneath Korea as an upstanding member of global society that respects human rights.

For that, it is time to take on the U.N. recommendation for the legislation of the anti-racial discrimination law and allow foreign workers to have their rights protected and voices heard through collective representative bodies such as unions.

We should learn the lessons from Europe's failed policy on immigrants that marginalizing them is not the right solution and will only worsen the problems we will face later.

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