|Female migrant workers and local activists demand the government provide better working conditions for migrant women at the National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) in central Seoul, Nov. 17. / Courtesy of Women Migrants Human Rights Center of Korea|
80 percent of female migrants experience disadvantages in workplace
By Lee Hyo-jin
Hundreds of female migrant workers employed at government-run facilities are suffering discrimination and unfair treatment, according to a recent survey by Hope Center with Migrant Workers, a civic group based in Seoul.
The survey results were revealed on Wednesday at a discussion session held by the Women Migrants Human Rights Center of Korea ahead of International Migrants Day which falls on Dec. 18.
About 80 percent of the 403 respondents working as interpreters, counselors and bilingual tutors stated that they have experienced discrimination such as unequal payment, limited promotion opportunities and unrecognized work experience.
"I've been working as an interpreter at a multicultural family support center for 13 years, during which I have never received holiday bonuses or extra pay for meal costs that are obviously provided to my Korean coworkers," a marriage migrant was quoted as saying by the civic group. She requested anonymity.
"I don't understand why I am paid less than my colleagues although we are given similar tasks. It's hard to imagine that a state-run facility aimed at improving multicultural awareness openly discriminates employees by their nationality," said another migrant woman with five years of work experience at the support center.
According to the data provided by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family in October, bilingual tutors at public schools earn around 26.3 million won ($24,100) yearly, and interpreters working at multicultural support centers earn an average of 25.6 million won ― roughly 66 percent of the average annual salary of employees at the centers, which stood at 34.2 million won.
The civic group pointed out that the lack of details on wage guidelines has widened the payment gap.
The wage guidelines set by the ministry only state that interpreters and counselors should be paid "over the minimum wages," whereas the specific manuals for Korean employees guarantee a yearly pay raise and chances for promotion based on their consecutive years of employment.
The survey also found that 91 percent of the migrant women experienced weak job security as their employment is based on temporary contracts of 10 months or one year. Also, 67 percent of the women have experienced workplace bullying such as verbal abuse and insults towards their home country.
"These issues, which have not been properly addressed for years, have turned into long-term systemic discrimination. Even the latest support measures from the gender ministry failed to reflect the realities in the workplace," Wang Ji-yeon, head of the Migrant Women Association in Korea, told The Korea Times.
"What we need is improved job quality, not increased quantities of vacancies," she said, regarding the ministry's recent announcement to increase the number of interpreters in multicultural family support centers to 312 next year from the current 282.
She demanded an overhaul on the employment system; hiring qualified migrant women to full-time positions through proper recruitment procedures and providing education programs for their career development, as well as standardized wage guidelines.
"The current multicultural policies are mainly centered on family lives of migrant women, lacking support for their social activities. The government should recognize their capabilities and contributions to the country, and come up with better measures for them to be accepted as members of our society," said Hwang Jeong-mi, a researcher at the Institute for Gender Research at Seoul National University.