|A member of the Korean Metal Workers' Union (KMWU) distributes newsletters to migrant workers at Hyundai Samho Heavy Industries in Mokpo, South Jeolla Province, Wednesday. Courtesy of KMWU|
By Park Jae-hyuk
The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) has accelerated its efforts to attract migrant workers at local shipyards, a pressing issue for Korean shipbuilders and their subcontractors, which have suffered from labor shortages as global demand for vessels picks up, according to industry officials, Sunday.
Last Wednesday, the Korean Metal Workers' Union (KMWU) and the Migrants' Trade Union, both of which are under the KCTU, visited Hyundai Samho Heavy Industries in Mokpo, South Jeolla Province, and distributed newsletters written in foreign languages, so as to convince foreign workers to join the labor unions.
"Under the pretext of resolving labor shortages at shipyards, the Yoon Suk Yeol administration has carried out policies aimed at importing a massive number of migrant workers, rather than improving labor conditions for Korean subcontracted workers," the KMWU said in a press release. "Although a large number of migrant workers have flowed into shipyards in accordance with demands from the government and capitalists, they are highly unlikely to receive protection for their rights."
The KMWU has especially focused on attracting foreigners hired by subcontractors, who are considered to be experiencing poor working conditions compared to those hired directly by shipbuilders.
Subcontractors have therefore expressed concerns that potential labor disputes involving migrant workers could delay their supply of components and the construction of vessels for global clients. They also claimed that they have already suffered difficulties in doing their business, due to an increasing number of foreign workers deserting their jobs.
The labor union attributed their continued desertions to poor working conditions and low wages.
"Although E-7 visa holders are guaranteed wages equivalent to 80 percent of the previous year's gross national income per capita, migrant workers at shipyards are paid salaries similar to the national minimum wage, as their employers deduct various costs from their paychecks," said the HD Hyundai Heavy Industries union, which is under the KMWU.
When the government decided last year to ease visa regulations to resolve labor shortages at domestic shipyards, the KMWU initially protested the decision, arguing that the use of migrant workers at shipyards will increase fatal workplace accidents, due to poor communication stemming from language differences.
However, the soaring number of migrant workers prompted the union to change its stance.
According to industry officials, around 5,700 migrant workers worked at the shipyards of HD Hyundai's subsidiaries as of the first quarter of this year. They accounted for 19 percent of the entire outsourced labor of the subsidiaries. Shipyards of Hanwha Ocean and Samsung Heavy Industries are reportedly using around 1,600 and 1,100 foreign workers, respectively.
By the end of this year, an additional 3,000 foreign shipbuilding workers are expected to arrive in Korea to join the labor force.