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Notes on the investigation of migrant worker conditions in agro-livestock industry 2013.11.18 20:11 3727
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For the last seven months,GongGam, together with MIHU, Solidarity with Migrants, People of Earth’sStation and the Korea Migrant Human Rights Center, have been investigating theconditions of migrant workers in agro-livestock industries.

In rural agriculturalvillages where it is hard to find the young, migrant workers play the crucialrole to fill the vacancy. Nevertheless,it is hard to comprehend the reality of the workers from the outside becauseworkplaces of agro-livestock industry workers are far away from the city.Moreover, the closed spaces and the distance between workshops make it evenmore difficult for migrant workers to raise issues when their human rights areviolated. As a result, the abuse of migrant workers’ human rights and investigationfor such matters had been out of attention. This actual condition investigation casts a long shadow since it is anempirical study on a nation-wide scale about the human rights conditions ofmigrant workers in agro-livestock industry.

For an objectiveunderstanding of the actual conditions, the research team conducted a thorough literatureinvestigation, questionnaire surveys and in-depth interviews targeting migrantworkers in the agro-livestock industry, group interviews, on-site inspections,visits to organizations, search of interview and specialist opinioninvestigation. The team also collected cases of consultations..

A list of important mattersdiscovered by the survey is as follows: 

The number of migrantworkers in the agro-livestock industry who entered Korea with E-9 visa (16,252workers) is higher than the number of those who work in the construction andfishery industries. However, there are not many cases where workers voluntarilychoose to work in the agro-livestock industry. Most of them choose this area ofindustry because they can enter Korea earlier than when they choose otherfields due to the scheme for countries specialized in agro-livestock industry andthe selection system according to the Korean Proficiency Test scores. Likewise,the agro-livestock industry is the typeof an industry which is avoided even by the migrant workers.

Generally, migrant workersare required to conclude an employment contract in their own countries in orderto enter Korea. According to the survey results however, the migrant workersanswered that they have concluded improperly translated employment contracts(21.5%), contracts without fundamental contents provided (25.2%), or even neverentered into contracts (8.7%). Moreover, 36.7% of the migrant workers neverobtained the copy of the contracts they concluded. What is more, 61.1% of theconcluded contracts were in violation of the Minimum Wages Act. As it can beseen, the problems arise even before the immigrants actually enter Korea. Inthis manner, problems arise even before the workers enter Korea. The similarkinds of problems are exposed during the course of their work. The averagemonthly wage of migrant workers is about 1.27 million Korean Won. Yet, the substantialamount of their wages is paid in forms of charge for board and lodging, thuseventually not much are laid onto their hands. On the other hand, migrantworkers in agro-livestock industry only have two days-off in a month and theiraverage working hours are up to 283.7 hours per month. One third of therespondents even worked more than 300 hours a month. Even in the agriculturaloff-season, working hours do not change much. Although the rural areas are alsogoing through mechanization, agriculturalization and specialization ofmanagement, migrant workers in those areas still have to work. Employers often reduce their migrantemployees’ wages or even dismiss them by giving the agricultural off-season asthe reason. Among the peoplesurveyed, 68.9% have experienced delayed wage payments and 12.2% of them hadpenalties deducted from their wages because they were thought to be handless attheir tasks. Also, 9.9% of therespondents were barred from using the bathroom while at work. Nonetheless,the voices of the migrant workers were frequently ignored when they madeobjections to the payment under the wage floor, delayed wage payment, deductionof penalties from their wages, forced labor, etc. On the top of that, often themigrant workers received support from neither employment centers nor theEmployment and Labor Administrations.

Among the surveyed, migrantworkers in the agro-livestock industry, 60.9% were sent to another workplaces otherthan their original place of business that obtained employment permit. However,72.5% of the workers were sent to another place without consent. 70.2% of thesent did not know about the location and characteristics of the work they weregoing to do. 65.3% of them did not know who their employers were. Also, 38.8%of the surveyed were not fairly compensated even though they worked harder andlonger. They experienced their employers taking part of their wages in themiddle as well. Certainly, there are ongoingcases of so-called recurrent borrowing from and lending of the migrant workers toother workplaces.

Themost common form of accommodations of the migrant workers in agro-livestockindustry was the temporary buildings made with containers or panels (67.7%). 52.8% of those surveyed answered that employers and other people camein and out of their rooms frequently, and 22.7% of them answered that bathroomsand bedrooms lacked safe locking devices. Regarding this issue, especially thefemale workers had a lot of complaints and anxiety. They cannot help but to be unguardedlyexposed to the dangers of robbery and sexual violence. Likewise, bathroomswere ill equipped (39.8%) since they were too far away from their lodgment,unfit for use as they were overflowing with excrement, or only had one bathroomeven though there were several workers. 26.7% of the accommodations werewindowless, 23% lacked indoor bathroom or bathing facilities, 12.9% werewithout cooking facilities and 11.8% were deficient in heating systems.

57.8% of the surveyed migrantworkers in agriculture and livestock industries have had experiences ofindustrial accident or illness. But as many as 66.5% of them were in short of provided basic equipmentssuch as gloves, boots, hats, masks, raincoats, work clothes, etc. and 58.7% were treated at the hospital at theirown expense when they suffered industrial accidents and had to use hospital.


In addition to that, verbally abused migrant workers amounted to75.8% of the survey respondents. 12.9% have experienced violence and 15.5%have compulsively got their identifications confisticated by their employers. 30.8% amongst the female workers have hadexperiences of sexual harassments or sexual violence personally, 50% havewitnessed or heard about the sexual victimization of their colleagues oracquaintances. 56.5% answered that their employers or managers walked intotheir rooms without permission, 21.9% were held incommunicado, and 18.9% weregrounded even after their working hours or in holidays. 10% of them even hadtheir belongings searched. 28% of the answerers were forced to do personal andnonoccupational work for their employers and managers. In many cases, femaleworkers were ordered to do household chores such as dishwashing, cleaning andlaundry while male workers were forced to do repair, maintenance work andpainting for the employers.

As pointed out above, migrant workers in agro-livestock industryare unfairly treated and occasionally exploited like slaves or machines.However, the Korean legislation is only thinking of supplying the rural areawith manpower instead of guaranteeing human rights of the migrant workers.Employers’ pre-modern way of awareness of the matter, inadequate systems, as wellas insensitive attitudes of the government and institutions on the situationsof human rights violations of the migrant workers in agro-livestock industry,all contributed to worsen the current problems. There is an urgent need for efforts to change the way the employersregard the migrant workers, the improvement of systems and positive attitudesof the government and institutions toward the current issue.

We sincerely hope thatthis investigation would help improve the human rights of the workers in theagricultural and livestock industry.

By Jiyoung Yoon

Attorney at GongGam

Translated by Jung Hwa Lee

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