|Lee Jae-kwang, chairman of the Korea Federation of SMEs (KBIZ) labor committee, speaks during a forum at the federation's headquarters in Seoul, Thursday. Courtesy of KBIZ|
By Park Jae-hyuk
More than six out of every 10 owners of small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) agree on the need for tougher regulations on migrant workers switching jobs too frequently and urged the government to force E-9 visa holders to work at least three years at their first workplace, according to a recent survey by the Korea Federation of SMEs (KBIZ), Thursday.
The federation surveyed 500 SMEs employing migrant workers and found that deportation is the favored solution of employers to deal with foreign employees who work slowly to protest management's refusal to terminate employment contracts so that they can move to other workplaces.
These results were disclosed during a forum hosted by KBIZ with labor policy experts and small business owners to propose reforms in the government's policies on migrant workers.
At the event, Korea SMEs & Startups Institute's research fellow Noh Min-sun said that 58.2 percent of SMEs were asked by their foreign employees to terminate employment contracts, less than six months after the workers arrived in Korea.
Those working under an E-9 visa, who are eligible to stay in Korea for three years and an additional 22 months, have to work at their first workplaces for at least the first three years. But they can change their workplaces in some cases, such as the closure of a company, delays in the payment of wages or when their employment contract is terminated with the consent of the employer.
According to Statistics Korea data shown at the forum, 42.3 percent of E-9 visa holders worked less than a year at their first workplaces.
In contrast to the common belief that low wages and poor labor conditions prompt foreigners to switch jobs, the most common reason behind requests to terminate employment contracts was to work with their friends employed at other places, accounting for 38.5 percent of the causes of such requests, according to the survey.
Noh added that 96.8 percent of SMEs accepted their migrant employees' requests to terminate employment contracts. Among the companies that rejected the requests, 85.4 percent said foreign employees worked slowly, said they were sick or did not come to work.
"When migrant workers try to switch jobs without a valid reason, employers should be allowed to take some countermeasures," the researcher said. "If employers did nothing wrong, the government should consider banning foreign workers from switching their jobs for a certain period of time."
|Foreign workers pour molten metal into casts at a foundry in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, in this 2021 file photo. Korea Times photo by Lee Han-ho|
During the discussion session at the forum, Lee Dong-soo, CEO of plastic molding company Dongjin Tech, asked the labor ministry and immigration authorities to come up with countermeasures.
"As Korean nationals refuse to work at my company for more than two months, my family members have filled the vacuum," he said. "Migrant workers seek to switch jobs just after they arrive and when they are refused, they pretend to be sick."
CEO Choi Won-choong of Sungwon A.C. Industries, an automotive sensor and gear manufacturer, claimed that one foreign employee at his company even filed a complaint with the labor authorities to protest the refusal to terminate his employment contract.
"Because it is necessary to deport foreigners working slowly to switch their jobs, we will make proposals to the government and lawmakers," said Lee Myung-ro, head of the small business labor policy division at KBIZ.
However, migrant workers claim that they still facing limits to their freedom to change workplaces without the consent of their employers.
"This is de facto forced labor, where the government and employers weaponize the visa to force workers to work against their will. It violates not only ILO conventions, but also the U.N. International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination," the Migrants' Trade Union said in a 2023 International Labor Day Declaration.